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The Orchestra reaches China.
Tuesday 1st March
Today was a day off to recover after yesterday’s travel marathon, so part of the day was spent practising, replacing one of Monsieur’s strings and getting the new one settled. It was a nice bright sunny day, so several of us set off to see something of the town, successfully negotiating the very efficient subway system to arrive at the Bund, taking in the historic waterfront and the astonishing high-rise financial district. Here are Kinga and Chi-Chi doing battle with a selfie stick; it’s a bit of a challenge when the desired view demands both landscape and portrait formats simultaneously.
Here’s a view of some of the historic buildings of the Bund, a very rich architectural mix:
We then plunged into the old part of town which has a very different architectural style.
This is inside a huge bazaar area off the wonderfully named Middle Fang Bang Road. Shopping here was great fun, but there’s also an exquisite and historic garden in the centre of the complex:
Wednesday 2nd March
Today we performed in Shanghai’s gorgeous Symphony Hall, to a friendly and enthusiastic audience. We all enjoyed the acoustic and facilities, and we were well looked after by the wonderful staff. The consensus among the orchestra is that Shanghai is a great city, with a real buzz, and we all feel that we’ve had a fantastic time here.
Thursday 3rd March
Today was another challenging travel day, this time on the train to Beijing, over 800 miles away. The railway station in Shanghai is enormous; here’s the view from the gallery with a somewhat redundant ’no crossing’ sign – about 15 metres up in the air! – down in the distance you might spot our intrepid admin team guarding the suitcase and instrument mountain.
This is on the train, with Lars keeping an eye on Monsieur (theorbo) for me.
After 5 hours or so rocketing across China on a hugely impressive high-speed train, travelling often in excess of 300 kph, we arrived in Beijing and were taken by bus to our hotel. Beijing is notably colder than Shanghai and sadly the level of pollution is unbelievable. In the evening some of us braved the smog and the metro system to go in search of Beijing Duck, and were duly rewarded with an absolutely delicious meal. Very satisfying to eat Beijing duck in Beijing, however touristy that may be!
Friday 4th March
Our last day in China… this tour seems to be flying by. We had a free morning and I was keen to see the Forbidden City, in spite of the difficulties caused by a governmental meeting in Tiananmen Square, which meant many roads around that area were closed. It took a while to find a way in, but was definitely worth it. The old imperial palace is, I believe, the largest complex of surviving 15th century wooden buildings in the world. The complex is huge, the individual buildings are stunning, and standing in the midst of this ancient complex from which dynasties of emperors ruled a large chunk of the planet was a very special feeling. I didn’t have time to do more than walk through the complex but I’m really glad to have had the opportunity to see it. Here is a photo of part of the inner courtyard, to give an idea of the place.
Getting back to the hotel through the police blockades and road closures was even more of a challenge than getting into the Forbidden City, but I made it back in time to get on the orchestra bus, only to be driven back almost to the gate of the Forbidden City; the concert hall is virtually next door!
Lucky Beijing has what must be the coolest concert hall on the planet: the National Center for the Performing Arts, by French architect Paul Andreu, is colloquially known as the ‘Egg’ – for obvious reasons.
I’m not normally a fan of modern architecture. Lutenists are most at home in Tudor halls and chilly medieval churches, but this building is stunning. The performing space is splendid and has a wonderful acoustic, but the front of house areas are also dramatic and exquisitely beautiful:
The audience was very friendly and appreciative, and this felt like a wonderful end to a short but fascinating tour. This tour was a first visit to both South Korea and China for many of us, myself included, and it has been both fascinating and hugely enjoyable. A big thank you to my lovely colleagues, to the staff of the venues where we played, and to the audiences who made us feel so welcome. Part of me is looking forward to going home, but part of me will be very sad to leave this exotic and fascinating country.