An August Return to China

Zubin Mehta leading the IPO in Turandot in Beijing’s Forbidden City. 1998.

Zubin Mehta leads the IPO to Nanjing and Harbin for five concerts.

In the first weeks of August, months before its much-anticipated fall tour to the United States, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is making an historic return to China for concerts in Nanjing, Jiangsu’s provincial capital, on August 5, 6 and 7 and Harbin, the largest city in Heilongjiang province, on August 10 and 12.

This will be the full orchestra’s eighth trip to China, but its first during the summer months. It also marks its first performance in the Harbin Concert Hall, which opened in 2014 after a year of extensive renovation. The 105-year-old building, most recently used as a hospital and hospice, was originally an orthodox synagogue, built in 1909 when Harbin had Asia’s second largest Jewish population, behind Shanghai.

The full orchestra’s seven previous China concert tours, from 1994 to 2015, were all in November or December. The switch comes after Maestro Zubin Mehta and 15 IPO musicians participated in the August 2016 Harbin Music Festival, where they performed with the Harbin Symphony Orchestra on the Concert Hall stage.

This year the orchestras add another landmark to their collaboration.



On August 5, the first concert in Nanjing includes Overture to “Oberon” by Carl Maria von Weber, Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759 (“Unfinished Symphony”), and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64.

The next day’s program is Beethoven’s Leonore Overture Nº 3 in C major, Op. 72b, Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto and Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique.

The Nanking series ends August 7 with Mozart’s Figaro Overture, Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1, Op.26 and Saint Saens’ Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 (“Organ Symphony”).



Harbin Concert Hall. Photo Courtesy of Nagata Acoustics

On August 10, the Harbin Concert Hall will be filled with von Weber’s Oberon, Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante in B major with David Radzinski, Dudu Carmel, Emanuele Silvestri and Daniel Mazaki as soloists, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

Two days later the China tour concludes with another milestone, conceived by Maestro Mehta during his visit to Harbin in 2016.

In its story on the revitalized Harbin Music Festival, The New York Times reported that Mehta had been impressed by the city officials’ “vision of building a cultural bridge with Israel,” and “came as a catalyst between the two sides.”

On August 12, those two sides will be side-by-side for an historic China-Israel collaboration. The evening opens with the IPO performing Mozart’s Symphony No 40 in G minor, continues with the Harbin Symphony Orchestra performing Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet and concludes with both orchestras performing Berlioz’ Fantastique together.

Over the past decade, Harbin has worked hard to revive a classical music tradition that had been fostered by the Jewish population that developed beginning in the 19th Century. Immigrants escaping persecution had arrived from Russia and Europe. Their music and culture were welcomed and allowed to flourish so fully that Harbin was nicknamed the St. Petersburg of the East. Jewish residents were soon among Harbin’s cultural leaders, supporting museums, art and driving the creation of a symphony orchestra.

The IPO’s 2017 tour to China will be another important leap forward for the resurging music tradition in Harbin. For Indian-born Mehta, already beloved across Asia, but especially in Beijing, where he conducted a groundbreaking staging of Turandot in the Forbidden City, it adds another high note to an already rich legacy.

August 2017