By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 12, 2009
At a time when many orchestras are cutting staff and canceling tours, the National Symphony Orchestra announced yesterday that it will tour China and South Korea for two weeks in June.
At the invitation of the Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China, the orchestra's principal conductor, Iván Fischer, will lead the ensemble in five concerts in Macau, Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. The NSO last performed in mainland China under Leonard Slatkin in 1999.
The performances are timed to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between China and the United States. The NSO will continue on to play two performances in Seoul and Goyang, South Korea.
International tours were once an essential component in establishing an orchestra's profile, but even before the current economic crisis, they were becoming rare events for many ensembles: Expensive and jeopardized by tighter security regulations on air travel, the trips are no longer an effective marketing tool for promoting an orchestra's recordings, since orchestras generally have fewer recordings to promote.
The June trip is the NSO's first international tour since its three-week sojourn in Ireland, England, France and Germany in 2002. Funded by Dow Chemical, with additional support from Amway and the Ministry of Culture itself, the tour, budgeted at $1.35 million, is "expected to break even," NSO spokeswoman Patricia O'Kelly says. The money was raised specifically for the tour; it is not drawn from the orchestra's operating budget.
Plans for the current tour go back to a verbal invitation from the ministry in the fall of 2006, in the wake of the Kennedy Center's China festival. "It's our way of giving back," says NSO Executive Director Rita Shapiro, "by bringing our orchestra to China after all the fantastic art that the Chinese people brought to the Kennedy Center."
The repertory will, therefore, include an American work: Daniel Kellogg's "Western Skies," which the orchestra will give its world premiere April 16 at the Kennedy Center. Indeed, the NSO's concerts set for April 16-18 will offer local audiences a nice preview of the China programs: Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, and Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos soloing in the Mendelssohn E Minor and Tchaikovsky violin concertos. In China, the orchestra will also offer Dvorak's Seventh Symphony and the Overture to Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg," which Fischer has performed with the NSO on previous programs.