The Philadelphia Orchestra's Mongolian debut is not quite off

Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj acknowledges the audience's applause after being introduced from stage at the start of the Philadelphia Orchestra's concert in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016, in Philadelphia. President Elbegdorj is in Philadelphia at the invitation of Ms. Vulgamore and the Orchestra for a daylong visit. ( JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer)

The Philadelphia Orchestra may still visit Mongolia on its spring tour of the Far East, though definitely not with its entire contingent.

Due to austerity measures related to a proposed $5.5 billion economic-stabilization package, Mongolia no longer can afford to host the orchestra for its proposed June 2 to 5 visit and outdoor concert in the capital of Ulaanbaatar, orchestra leaders said Friday afternoon.

Among the many contingencies being considered is a smaller group of musicians doing various outreach concerts during that slot in the Far East tour between China and South Korea.

"We're closely assessing all of our options," said Ryan Fleur, executive vice president of orchestral advancement, emphasizing that no definite plans had been made on how many musicians — if any — would visit Mongolia on this trip. "Changes happen when you work with external partners far away. This time, it has been very public and in a unique aspect of the tour."

Orchestra officials emphasized their continued commitment to a possible relationship with Mongolia, a country whose population is still substantially nomadic.

"Our friends and colleagues in Mongolia are continuing to build their democracy, and we support their continuing efforts to establish long-term cultural exchanges with the West," Allison Vulgamore, president and CEO of the orchestra, said in a statement.

Already, the orchestra's 2017 Far East tour has declined in the number of concerts with the significant absence of Macau, which had been a regular tour stop over the last several years. Despite having the fastest-growing Asian economy in recent years, Mongolia's plans with the Philadelphia Orchestra have been quietly contracting.

In March 2016, when a memorandum of understanding with the government of Mongolia was announced in Washington, the orchestra was discussed in terms of giving a formal indoor concert in a venue that, in true boom-economy fashion, had not yet been built, with a possible second, open-air, performance.

The visit was meant to further cement diplomatic relations between the United States and Mongolia, which have existed for more than 30 years but have heated up during this decade in light of Mongolia's economic advancement and the country's location between Russia and China.

During a September visit to Philadelphia, Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj said at a City Hall ceremony, "I'm happy to call all of you friends of Mongolia. Let's work together."

However, in an interview, he envisioned just a single outdoor concert.

In the weeks before his visit, reports were filtering out of Ulaanbaatar that the government was worried about paying for its own operational costs. Following the president's visit, news begin to break that the Mongolian economy was in deep trouble. The country had enjoyed 17 percent economic growth in 2011, with similarly impressive gains though 2013 with the discovery of minerals. But by 2016, that growth slowed to 1 percent, according to Reuters.

The combination of government overspending, a slowdown in revenues, and the domino effect from China's economic slowdown put the country in crisis. In February, the $5.5 billion bailout was arranged through the International Monetary Fund and a consortium of international banks.

As recently as last week, orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin had expressed continued enthusiasm for Mongolia, saying: "I think this will be one of the great events in the history of the orchestra. Their eagerness to have us there and the wish for Mongolia to get closer to the classical music world is something we can really feel."

On Wednesday, Fleur was briefed with new information indicating that a full orchestral concert there wasn't feasible.

"I would like to emphasize that we stand [with] ... their democracy and their efforts to stabilize their finances," Fleur said.

"Our relationship with Mongolia ... remains strong," Vulgamore added, "and we look forward to visiting in the future."

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