Halfway through the tour in China, on June 1, the Juilliard Orchestra joined forces with the Youth Symphony Orchestra of China’s Central Conservatory of Music to perform in a concert at the newly built National Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall in Beijing.
Each orchestra paid musical homage to the other by performing pieces inspired by traditional music of that culture. The Juilliard Orchestra played traditional Chinese pieces: Hua Yanjun’s String Symphony, titled The Moon Reflected in the Second Spring, and Xian Xinghai’s Yellow River Piano Concerto with 15-year-old Juilliard Pre-College pianist Peng Peng. The China Youth Symphony played jazz-influenced pieces: Variations on “America” by Charles Ives and An American in Paris by George Gershwin. Ms. Zhang led members from both orchestras in the final piece, Bizet’s Farandole from L’Arlésienne Suite No. 2.
The beginning of the String Symphony demands a dizi, which is a Chinese transverse flute. Though the orchestra rehearsed the piece before leaving New York, they would have to wait to hear this instrument until they arrived in Beijing. Instead, flutist Jeremiah Bills did a phenomenal job using his Western flute to mimic the dizi’s pure, hollow sound. When dizi player Li Juan joined the orchestra in Beijing, her sound transformed the meaning of the piece, providing direction and perspective for the rest of the orchestra. This experience fed our excitement as we anxiously awaited meeting the rest of the Chinese musicians.
On concert day, any sense of fatigue took a back seat to the anticipation we were feeling. Meeting the Chinese musicians was an event in and of itself; although language and cultural barriers created walls, we were able to find common ground on the musical playing field. Hours before the concert, we met Maestro Yu, who ran through the pieces for that evening’s concert. The strings used glissandos to honor a Chinese style of playing, while the diziadded a special touch. Similarly, the China Youth Symphony used car horns that Juilliard brought over from New York, as well as saxophones and a celesta, for An American in Paris. They did a fine job swinging with Gershwin.
The two orchestras joined at the end of the rehearsal for a run-through of Farandole. This was the first time we all finally got to meet each other. With a couple of minutes to exchange a few words and some sign language with our new stand partners, the piece began. After two run-throughs, we all headed to the cafeteria for dinner. There was a low hum as some tried to take the opportunity to speak with one another. One table was successful in finding that both sides were learning German, so we attempted to communicate in that language. Both were able to agree that we were not too fond of the food we were eating, but regardless, were having a great time with the experience.
The concert had a high-energy atmosphere charged with appreciation for each other’s musical efforts. The two orchestras managed to share one backstage area and were respectful of the space limitation. Both were supportive, cheering on the other group as we all walked on and off stage. With a sold-out hall, the audience raved at the end; the concert was well received and a huge success!