Philadelphia Orchestra returns to China for milestone performance tour

The Philadelphia Orchestra returned to Beijing on Tuesday for a tour that will mark 50 years since its historic performance in China, the latest sign of improving ties between the two countries ahead of a highly anticipated meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping.

The orchestra first visited China in September 1973, marking a thaw in U.S.-China relations just as the two nations began normalizing ties after Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit China’s mainland.

Ahead of the tour, the orchestra said 14 of its members will be traveling to China, including 73-year old Davyd Booth, a violinist who was on the orchestra’s first tour to the country half a century ago.

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Philadelphia Orchestra’s 73-year-old violinist Davyd Booth, left, is greeted by a representative of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries Cultural Exchange Department in Beijing Capital International Airport on Nov. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

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“This constant 50-year connection with China has been really very deep and very wonderful,” Booth on arriving at Beijing’s Capital International Airport.

The ensemble will be performing with the China National Symphony Orchestra at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, starting Friday. The musicians will also travel to the cities of Tianjin, Suzhou and Shanghai, and hold master classes and perform chamber music at schools and cultural venues.

The ensemble’s visit coincides with the American Ballet Theatre’s tour in China, which started in Shanghai last week. The cultural exchanges follow a series of high-level visits from the United States, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

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The U.S. and China have been slowly restoring contacts that were largely broken off over the past four years, both by the coronavirus pandemic that restricted travel and the growing animosity between the world’s two largest economies.

In recent weeks, Washington and Beijing have made overtures to each other as they prepare for a meeting between Biden and Xi at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco next week.

Until now, the Philadelphia Orchestra had visited China 12 times, most recently in May 2019, before the pandemic.