Plans were announced Monday morning in Ottawa for a two-and-a-half-week tour the National Arts Centre Orchestra will make to China in the fall of 2013.
From Oct. 4 to 20, the 70-member orchestra will perform in seven cities (including Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai), give eight major concerts, interact with hundreds of Chinese musical students in 80 educational events, and generally spread the excellence of Canadian music-making to one of the fastest-growing audiences for classical music in the world.
The artistic highlights of the visit will include the performance of two Mozart violin concertos with the orchestra's world-renowned music director, Pinchas Zukerman, as soloist, as well as performances of two contemporary Canadian compositions: John Estacio's Brio and Alexina Louie's Bringing The Tiger Down From the Mountain II. Louie is a Chinese-Canadian composer, and her piece features Amanda Forsyth, the NAC's principal cellist, as soloist.
Artistic collaborations of this scale and at this level have had political implications probably since some Spartan singer performed as a goodwill gesture for an Athenian audience some 2,500 years ago, but certainly since the pianist Van Cliburn was the first American to win the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow during the Cold War in 1958.
The last Canadian orchestra to tour China was the Vancouver Symphony in 2009. The cultural and political significance of the NAC's planned trip was highlighted by the presence at Monday's announcement of not just Zukerman and Peter Herrndorf, president and CEO of the National Arts Centre, but also Minister of Canadian Heritage James Moore, Laureen Harper, longtime friend of the NAC, and Zhang Junsai, China's ambassador to Canada.
Tours of this scale are part of international diplomacy these days, and international business. The tour is being financed by a modern partnership of both private and public money. No longer can events of this scale depend solely on government largesse.
Pinchas Zukerman, who has been visiting China himself since 1995 as both a performer and conductor, thinks the greatest impact of the trip might be on the NAC musicians themselves.
"China changes you," he tells me, "and it is many countries, not just one. When I first went to China, almost 20 years ago, there were 170,000 construction cranes operating in the country, two-thirds of all the cranes on earth. But the streets were still being cleaned by women with brooms. The orchestra musicians will have their eyes opened by this trip. This is a country in great flux, and living through so many different phases of development. We're happy to be able to be part of their artistic life, and hope that our trip will have lasting consequences, for them and us both."
Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated that no Canadian orchestra has toured China since the Toronto Symphony in 1978. This has been corrected.