• By: Myka Burke

Beijing and Ottawa Symphony Orchestras Unite for Canada’s 150th

On Sunday, February 12th, a very special musical celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary will be taking place. His Worship Mayor Watson has called it a “cultural jewel!” The Beijing Symphony Orchestra will be performing in Ottawa and they will be joined by invited members of the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra for this once in a lifetime event. The special programme will feature Brahms’ majestic Violin Concerto, the splendour of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, as wells as an original contemporary composition by Chinese composers Lu Zheng and Hongye Ma.

The Ottawa performance will be under the baton of internationally renowned Chinese guest conductor Muhai Tang, Chief Conductor of the Belgrade Philharmonic, Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Tianjin Opera and Orchestra and Artistic Director of the Shanghai Philharmonic and Zhenjiang Symphony Orchestras in China; Muhai Tang is also Conductor Laureate of the China National Symphony Orchestra and he has been Principal Guest Conductor of the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra since 2009. He has made many guest appearances with celebrated orchestras around the world including the Berlin Philharmonic – by invitation from Herbert von Karajan in 1983 no less – and many times since.

Berlin-based, Chinese born violinist Feng Ning, who has acquired an international reputation as a brilliant soloist with exceptional diction and expressive eloquence, will also be performing; he will be performing on a 1721 Stradivari violin, known as the ‘MacMillan’.

This concert marks the first major event involving the Ottawa Symphony and the Beijing Symphony. This event builds on a series of cultural, educational and administrative exchanges that have grown from the sister city agreement between Ottawa and Beijing. In a statement, Mayor Watson recalls the history of the sister city agreement: “As you may know, the City of Ottawa also has a special relationship with the City of Beijing that dates back to 1999 when, during my first term as Mayor, I had the honour of signing a “sister city” agreement with the City of Beijing. To date, this agreement remains Ottawa’s only international agreement with another city. … We look forward to welcoming members of the BSO to one of the greatest capital cities in the world during such a momentous celebration in our nation’s history.”

Words of enthusiasm and welcome have also been extended by Prime Minister Trudeau, who has stated: “Our nation was built on diversity and a spirit of collaboration that extends around the world. Our vibrant cultural ties between peoples, including with China, have enriched our multicultural society. … Please accept my warmest welcome and best wishes for an enjoyable concert.”

The Beijing Symphony Orchestra, one of China’s cultural institutions, was founded in 1977. They are known for performing an extensive repertoire during their eighty or so season performances. Their dedication to orchestral masterpieces is evident in their production of works such as Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 and Symphony no. 7, and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 – all premières in China.

The Ottawa Symphony Orchestra is led by artistic director Alain Trudel; it is celebrated for its original and creative programming, for performing contemporary Canadian compositions, in particular works by Ontario composers, and is also known for collaborating with local partners, such as the Ottawa Choral Society, the Ottawa Youth Orchestra, and the University of Ottawa. This time, however, their partners are from a country that is roughly ten thousand kilometers away! I had a chance to ask Mr. Trudel what it has been like, preparing for this concert.

He said: “We have been exchanging on a daily basis with our Chinese colleagues during the last week in order to present the best collaboration between our two organizations and cultures. The greatest challenge will be to coordinate everyone with limited rehearsals. Our musicians have been working very hard for the key positions in the orchestra they have been asked to fill and are honored to do so. In addition to the very demanding program we just performed this week, the musicians of the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra participating in this wonderful collaboration have been studying the score as well as their own music to get ready. The fact that we performed the main symphonic work on the program during last season is also a great advantage. Making music with colleagues from a different country is a wonderful way to get to know their culture.”

Local presenter, the RideauStone Arts Centre, is Ottawa’s newest classical music presenter. I had a chance to ask CEO Patrick Lin a few questions around what it has been like to mount this extensive musical undertaking as RideauStone Arts Centre’s inaugural event:

Ottawa Life: Why was it important for you to create this event? PL: 150th Anniversary of Confederation of Canada is a big deal to all Canadians.

Patrick Lin: As Canadians, my wife and I believe that we need to make some contribution to the celebrations here, for Ottawa 2017. The City of Ottawa, and especially Mayor Watson of Ottawa have helped so much to make this event happen. I was in charge of the Beijing-Ottawa relationship 20 years ago when I worked for the Beijing Municipal Government. I am happy to see that today the two cities are enjoying a rich sister cities relationship, and, as a proud Ottawa resident, I want to help with further promoting the ties between Ottawa and Beijing.

Why center the event around music?

The Beijing Symphony Orchestra is one the best orchestras in China, and classical music is a universal language that we want to share with our fellow Canadians. There is nothing better than music which shows our appreciation to Canada, our homeland.

How would you describe the different phases of this undertaking?

We had a very short time in fact. I met with the BSO rep in Ottawa in August, we decided to do the concert, and we sent out the invitation in September. We did not have much time to prepare, we tried very hard to get the venue in Toronto and Ottawa, and then the hotels, ground transportation, then a promotional plan, and establish collaboration with Ottawa Symphony Orchestra and NAC Orchestra. All this was done in 2 months time. Very tough.

What does it mean to see this event happen, in a world that has changed so much since you first planned the event?

I have received many greetings, including greetings from our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. That means the event has attracted so much attention from our communities, and that is what we hoped. We want to demonstrate to our communities that Canada is indeed a multi-cultural society.

For the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, the sentiments were very similar. Mr. Meng, Vice President of the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, when asked what it has been like preparing to work with Ottawa Symphony in Canada, so far away, replied: “That is a good question, there is a time difference of 13 hrs, and the preparation is under time pressure. Since we decided to hold the concert in Ottawa and Toronto last September, we have tried very hard to go through all the details of the music tour; working with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra (OSO) is a big part of the tour. BSO is in Canada to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Canada and the sister cities relations between Beijing and Ottawa, therefore playing with OSO on the same stage will be an historic and significant way to celebrate such a wonderful event. We discussed with OSO and RideauStone Arts Centre for all the details of the co-performance, including the stage plan, seating, music score, musical language and conductor style. All in all the work has been done through the spirit of collaboration.”

Mme Huang Haiyan, the Managing Director of the BSO says she is most looking forward to visiting Ottawa and experiencing the all that the two sister cities have in common: “Ottawa is the Capital City of Canada, known as a city of history and culture. Beijing, the Capital City of China is also a place of history and culture. The two sister cities have so many things in common. We believe, and it is also the believe of Mayor Cai Qi of Beijing and Mayor Watson of Ottawa, that music is the best ambassador of culture. We look forward to giving the people in Ottawa our performance so Ottawans will know that across the Pacific Ocean, there is a City, Beijing that also has an internationalized symphony orchestra, and the two sister cities have so many things in common.”

Other information: http://www.rideaustone.ca/