Ormandy in China: The Historic 1973 Tour
Ormandy in China
The Invitation
The Invitation

On Thursday, 22 February 1973, Eugene Ormandy was sick in bed with the flu when the telephone rang. "Mr. Ormandy, the President wishes to talk to you." Ormandy replied, "Which president?" Richard Nixon was calling to tell Ormandy that Zhou Enlai, premier of the People's Republic of China, had invited the Philadelphia Orchestra to visit several cities in China, and Zhou wanted the tour to occur sometime in 1973. Later that day, Ormandy recounted the conversation with Nixon to the Philadelphia Inquirer: "I told him how honored I feel that this orchestra has been chosen to represent the United States, the first foreign orchestra invited to China." (The London Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic would precede the Philadelphia Orchestra to China, but Ormandy did not know this at the time.)

"U.S. and China Will Soon Set Up Offices in Capitals for Liaison"
R.W. Apple Jr.
New York Times, 23 February 1973
Timeline for the 1973 China Tour
The tour covered eleven days, with six full days in Beijing and almost four in Shanghai.
Ormandy and Nixon

When news of Richard Nixon's phone call was reported in the press the next day, Henry Kissinger was quoted as saying that the Philadelphia Orchestra had been specifically requested by Premier Zhou Enlai. This statement would have deflected speculation that the selection of the orchestra was influenced by Nixon's personal or political preferences. It was no secret that Eugene Ormandy was a favorite of Nixon's. When asked about their relationship, Ormandy replied that it would be presumptuous for him to claim that he was close to the president, but "he seems to like me." One month before Nixon extended the invitation, Ormandy had conducted the orchestra in a concert celebrating the inauguration of Nixon's second term in office. Nixon had broken precedent by inviting the Philadelphia Orchestra to perform rather than the Washington D.C.-based National Symphony. It was a concert that manager Boris Sokoloff described as "a political nightmare."

"Backstage during Eugene Ormandy's 70th Birthday Concert"
Academy of Music, 24 January 1970
Left to right: Dene Louchheim, Stuart F. Louchheim, Richard Nixon, Pat Nixon, Eugene Ormandy, Gretel Ormandy
The Cultural Revolution

In the last decade of his life, chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976) launched the Cultural Revolution, which was intended to purge the government of his enemies, divert China from the bureaucratic style of communism promoted in the Soviet Union, and renew the spirit of the Chinese Revolution (1911-12). To enact the new policies, he put together a coalition of associates, including his wife, Jiang Qing (1914-1991), who oversaw cultural matters, and Premier Zhou Enlai (1898-1976).

Zhou Enlai, Richard Nixon, and Jiang Qing
22 February 1972
Associated Press photograph

Zhou Enlai
For the first few years, there was conflict among these associates. Following the death of Defense Minister Lin Biao in 1971, Zhou Enlai worked to restore stability. It was Zhou who was behind the push to develop a closer relationship with the West, and classical music was central to this initiative. The first public performance of foreign music by foreign musicians occurred early in 1973 when Swiss cellist Henri Honegger performed programs in Beijing and Shanghai. Two western orchestras preceded the Philadelphia Orchestra to China: in March 1973, the London Philharmonic ( John Pritchard, conductor) performed five concerts, and the Vienna Philharmonic (Claudio Abbado, conductor) performed four concerts, the last of which included the Yellow River Concerto, with Yin Chengzong as soloist.

Jiang Qing
Jiang Qing, a former actress who performed under the stage name Lan Ping, met Mao while she was teaching drama at the Lu Xun Art Academy, and they were married in 1939. For several decades, Jiang stayed out of the public eye and was not involved in politics. In 1963, she began exerting her political influence and was appointed deputy head of the Cultural Revolution, and in this role she had far-ranging influence over the performing arts. (Also during this time she forged an alliance with three other radical Politboro members to form the Gang of Four.) Through her "eight model plays," she infused Chinese opera and ballet with proletarian themes, and she was generally opposed to the performance of Western music in China. Her conservative ideas about the role of the arts in Chinese society were at odds with Zhou's attempt to use classical music as a diplomatic tool.

During the tour by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Zhou and other leaders were occupied with a concurrent visit by French President Georges Pompidou, so Jiang and a few other officials represented the Chinese government at one of the concerts in Beijing.
Introduction The Trip Repertory for the Tour Central Harmonic Society Third Concert in Beijing Orchestra as Tourists Performances by the Chinese After the Tour Sond Recordings