New documentary explores the personal and political meaning of Philadelphia Orchestra’s China visits

Posted on: April 19, 2021

“If you want to understand why we’re not embarked on a ‘new Cold War’ with Beijing, I suggest you watch a PBS documentary … called Beethoven in Beijing—about the Philadelphia Orchestra’s unique relationship with China,” writes Trudy Rubin in last Tuesday’s (4/13) Philadelphia Inquirer. “I suggest this not because of a vain hope that music can offset political strife…. But a film about China’s passion for the German master—and for Philadelphia’s orchestral treasure—is a reminder that … as Beethoven in Beijing illustrates, the ties that bind our two countries are historically driven and deeply emotional. They will be tested, but hopefully, they will survive. The documentary revolves around the Philadelphia Orchestra’s historic 1973 visit to China, the first by a U.S. orchestra…. Today, the Philadelphia Orchestra is still an icon in China, having made many concert tours of the country and worked with Chinese students, universities, and the Shanghai Philharmonic…. The musical relationships shown in this documentary are a litmus test, as to whether the deep ties between musicians and orchestras are so strong that even the geopolitical competition of two 21st-century giants cannot break them. And whether, even if cultural relationships can’t overcome political strife, they can ameliorate it.”