“Beethoven in Beijing” documentary, chronicling Philadelphia Orchestra’s breakthrough 1973 visit to China

Posted on: December 17, 2020

“A Cold War saying held that ‘Only Nixon can go to China’—that only an American president with his ironclad conservative credentials could withstand the criticism provoked by meeting with the communist regime,” writes Jeff Gammage in Tuesday’s (12/15) Philadelphia Inquirer. “In February 1972, Nixon famously pulled it off. Just 19 months later, he was followed … by another history-maker: the Philadelphia Orchestra. In a groundbreaking mission of cultural diplomacy, at the invitation of the Chinese government, 104 musicians headed to an isolated nation … where Western classical music was banned…. The drama of that September 1973 tour resonates anew in Beethoven in Beijing, an award-winning documentary…. During the 10-day visit, the orchestra performed … Debussy, Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms, along with the Yellow River Concerto…. Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony was added at the last minute, after Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s powerful wife, Jiang Qing, requested it.” Co-directed by Jennifer Lin and Sharon Mullally, “Beethoven in Beijing [was] a finalist for this year’s Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film. It won Best Historical Documentary at the San Antonio Film Festival, earned honorable mention at the Philadelphia Film Festival, and [will] be broadcast nationwide on PBS in 2021.”