What began with BYU’s first performance tour to China in 1979 has since grown into a flourishing cultural exchange between the two entities. This year, while working with several of China’s prestigious universities, the Chamber Orchestra strengthened old relationships and formed new friendships during their recent spring tour.
The Chamber Orchestra represented Brigham Young University at the annual Meet in Beijing Arts Festival. This event, made possible by the China Performing Arts Association, was filmed by China Central TV (CCTV) for later national broadcast. During the festival the Chamber Orchestra played in one of the tour’s most memorable performances: a collaborated concert with the Beijing Dance Academy. The orchestra provided the music and the academy provided the dancers for a combined artistic presentation. Jiamin Huang, a BYU dance professor, played a key role in arranging this special performance. As a former associate professor of the academy, Huang made the necessary connections for the performance. The project was a huge undertaking, but Huang knew its potential impact on the Chinese participants and audience members would make the show a success.
“I set up several desired outcomes, such as presenting BYU’s core values to a Chinese audience,” said Huang. “I wanted to smoothly create a new form of performance between musicians and dancers, expand educational aims for our students by having intercultural exchanges, and continue the relationship between the two universities.”
The title of this combined dance and orchestra concert, “When We Encounter—Dance and Music from West to East,” was a theme that embodied the intercultural purpose of the tour. With exchanges and collaborations throughout the tour, the Chamber Orchestra taught and learned from university students in five different Chinese cities. The orchestra also worked with other orchestras from Peking University, Tianjin Conservatory of Music, Shanghai Normal University, and Hangzhou Normal University, incorporating both traditional and modern pieces as well as experiencing the partnership of performing together. Additional public performances were given in Tianjin, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.
“Western music is relatively new to China, but you can tell by their orchestral playing that they love and embrace it,” said Spencer Park, a hornist for the Chamber Orchestra. “They have so much energy, and it was fun to play with such enthusiastic musicians.”
Along with sharing western pieces, the orchestra performed the traditional Chinese song “The Butterfly Lover’s Violin Concerto,” which the audience received with tears and standing ovations. They were touched by this well-known Chinese musical piece, especially because it showed the efforts of BYU’s Chamber Orchestra in understanding and appreciating Chinese culture.
This cultural experience was recognized in more than just the concert halls; Guangzhou University’s traditional Chinese music students held a small workshop where they taught Chamber Orchestra members how to play traditional Chinese instruments.
Throughout their tour of China, the Chamber Orchestra members participated in special concerts, workshops, and traditional Chinese activities, making the tour a successful combination of musical collaboration and intercultural awareness.