And a very Happy New Year to all of you!
It is getting more and more rare for me to spend this time of year at home, and this year, I could be found in the Far East. But the journey began in Lyon.
We wrapped up the old year with a concert of familiar French fare, however some of the pieces were new to many in the orchestra. Take for example the Zampa Overture by Harold. This piece, which used to be a staple of the concert band repertoire, hardly gets a hearing nowadays. We played this delightful, almost Rossinian romp for an afternoon crowd who seemed curious about a piece from their own country that they did not know.
Soloist for the week was Renaud Capuçon, probably the foremost French violinist around these days. His deft handling of the Saint-Saens 3rd was exceptional, and I am really looking forward to seeing him again in September.
Most of the pieces we played were in preparation for a tour in China. Originally we thought that performing a work by a Chinese composer would be a good idea, but the concert presenters just wanted French music. So only the Lyon audience heard Extase, by Quigong Chen. The soloist, Jean-Louis Capezali, was extraordinary. We had recorded the work several years ago but it had disappeared from my memory. This time it made a stronger impression.
It was only a five-day stay in Lyon, as we were headed off to Hong Kong for a few days of R&R. I realize that this term is not usually associated with that city, but Cindy had never been there, and Daniel was going to join, so it amounted to a mini vacation. It was also an opportunity to spend some time with Klaus Heymann, head of Naxos records. We were kindly invited for Christmas Eve dinner at his home and treated to some wonderful dishes as well as good conversation.
The first time I was in Hong Kong, I bought some clothes from one of their most respected tailors, and I decided to return on this visit.
After a number of interviews, I returned to the hotel where the orchestra from Valencia was checking in. It seems that they had a concert the next night with Zubin Mehta. At the same time, the Royal Philharmonic from London was also visiting with Yoel Levi. There is obviously a thriving music scene in Guangzhou.
Hangzhou is an older city, but there was no time to sightsee. By the time our flight arrived, we more or less rushed into rehearsal. After the performance, we had a celebratory reception to bring in 2014, and the orchestra clearly seemed to enjoy themselves. Following that, we headed to the car for a two-hour drive to Shanghai.
Now I was on more familiar ground, having conducted here on three other occasions. And with a full day off, there was plenty of time to look around. This bustling city of 20 million combines big, modern architecture with impoverished neighborhoods. We went to the silk museum, visited the Shanghai Museum to see the bronzes, and also attended a performance by the Shanghai acrobats, contributing to the booming economy by being dutiful tourists.
A couple members of the DSO are from Shanghai, including Michael Ma, assistant principal bassoon, who treated us to lunch. Attending the concert were Tan Dun and my good friend, Larry Foster, who was on tour with the MDR Orchestra from Hannover, Germany. Once again, cheering audiences greeted the performance. Afterwards, we had an outstanding Hunan dinner, and Larry and I exchanged what seemed like endless stories from our younger days.
Finally, it was off to Beijing, the last stop on the tour. This was a bit tough, as we had a morning flight, then an hour’s drive into the city. After checking in to the hotel, it was time to get to the hall for interviews and press conferences, not to mention a rehearsal, concert and reception. It is possible that I have never been more photographed in my life, and all of you readers know how much I love photo shoots.
The whole experience was illuminating. Probably no country has undergone such dramatic changes. Yes, some websites such as Facebook and the NY Times are blocked. Pollution is barely tolerable. But overall, this remarkable country is clearly at the leading edge in today’s marketplace. At this point, I am not sure when I will return, but it is clear that when that time occurs, I will see even more changes.