The Why of Orchestra Tours

Lu Chunling performs a piece he composed to honor the Philadelphia Orchestra upon arriving at the Shanghai airport Wednesday. Lu Chunling greeted orchestra musicians in China on their first trip there in 1973. (Photo: Jan Regan/Philadelphia Orchestra)

The routine sometimes has the feel of a long, repetitive march: airport, flight, diesel-infused bus ride, hotel and concert hall. Day after day, this is an orchestra tour. To the outsider the itinerary sounds glamorous: London, Beijing, Buenos Aires. But the reality is that there’s little glamour to touring, and amid the fog of logistics the purpose to it all tends to get lost.

But then you get to a concert where the vibe from the audience is bright and expectant. It can happen in Boston or Ames, Iowa, that the music starts, and all the trouble of getting there melts away. The Philadelphia Orchestra – like many orchestras, in fact – feels like a gift even when alighting in places like Vienna and London, where ensembles of a high caliber are common. All the more striking are those concerts where perhaps the audience has never heard an orchestra of great power and virtuosity, and a connection is made.

The Philadelphians are in China again. This is not news in itself anymore. Like Cuba and Vietnam, the partition is down; pioneering can be that only so long before it becomes convention. (An orchestra tour to North Korea or Kabul – now that would be intrepid cultural diplomacy.) But music makes its own waves, and Inquirer music critic David Patrick Stearns is there to report on the relationship between an orchestra and country wrought of mutual need, and the collateral humanitarianism that invariably breaks out when an orchestra moves among the people.

Look here for links to his stories during the next two weeks.

"China's Orchestra Evolution," 5/30, here.