Philharmonia to tour ‘for peace’ at Olympics

As details have emerged in recent weeks about the Yale Philharmonia’s trip to the Beijing Olympic Games this summer, School of Music officials are seeking to put the tour in the context of an “arts march for peace.”

“If one looks at artistic enterprises at their very best notion, the arts do offer hope and can build bridges of understanding,” School of Music Dean Robert Blocker said, referencing recent turmoil in Tibet, where activists seeking independence have clashed with the Chinese government. “The currency of music is hope.”

Blocker said the Philharmonia tour, formerly titled the “Cultural Olympiad,” offers an opportunity for musicians to gather in China and highlight the importance of the arts at a time when the rest of the world will also be focused on the region for the Olympics.

The tour, which will run from July 16 to 27 — eight days before the games’ opening ceremonies — begins at the Seoul Arts Center in Seoul, South Korea. From there, the 90 music students in the Philharmonia will travel to Beijing for two performances, one in the Forbidden City Concert Hall and one in the new National Centre for the Performing Arts. The last leg of the trip will feature a performance at the Shanghai Grand Theatre in Shanghai.

Funds for the trip will come from the School of Music and perhaps outside sponsorships yet to be determined, said Dana Astmann, the coordinator of special projects at the School of Music.

In Beijing, 10 other universities from countries across the world will join the School of Music for an official pre-Olympic event to celebrate global arts, according to Astmann. The Yale Philharmonia will play Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 alongside the Beijing Central Conservatory Orchestra, led by its conductor, Yongyan Hu. Yale Philharmonia music director Shinik Hahm will conduct the other performances on the tour.

While the impetus for the trip stemmed from Blocker’s friendship with the president of the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music, it also fits with Yale’s larger presence in China.

For two of the School of Music students who signed up for the tour, this will be their second journey to China as Yale delegates — the other being as Yale members of the “China 100” last summer. Hu invited a delegation of 100 students, faculty and administrators from Yale to tour cities in China last May in an effort to create a “platform for cultural exchange” between the United States and China.

Aaron Hill MUS ’08. an oboe player in the Philharmonia, recalled his 10-day excursion to Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an and his meeting with Hu. In particular, Hill remembers seeing the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing and imagining being able to perform there one day.

“It was a breathtaking experience,” he said. “The way we were treated made us feel like we were heads of state.”

Like the China 100 mission, the School of Music tour is intended to be an opportunity for cultural exchanges between both countries, involved students said.

While Hill called his fellow musicians “very opinionated and a diverse group with respect to political alignment,” he said he thinks “people will emerge with warmer feelings about each other’s countries.”

Hahm, who will be leading the orchestra in all three cities, including his hometown of Seoul, said he expects the group’s music to have a unifying power.

“I have performed in many countries and in many difficult situations, but music always wins over politics,” Hahm said.

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