Ormandy in China: The Historic 1973 Tour
Ormandy in China
After the Tour

Within a few days of their return to Philadelphia, Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra presented the 1973-74 season Gala Opening Concert, featuring selections from the repertory covered during the tour. They also recorded an album devoted to the music performed in China, which received generally poor reviews and has never been reissued on compact disc. (The album was available for listening at the exhibit's iPod station.)

While Jiang Qing had willingly participated in the visit, during the weeks following the tour she was vocal in her opposition to strengthening cultural ties with the West. This might have been driven by her escalating power struggle with Zhou Enlai and her desire to distance herself from him politically. She also was angered when she learned about the New York Times articles written by Harold C. Schonberg, who had disparaged Chinese attempts at creating Western classical music, describing the Yellow River Concerto as movie music" and even a piece of trash" and remarking that the orchestra members referred to it as the Yellow Fever Concerto." These reviews, combined with memories of the offensive martial conclusion to The Pines of Rome and the unpleasant conversation she had with Ormandy during intermission, likely influenced her position on opposing further cultural diplomacy with the West.

While in China, Li Delun had given Eugene Ormandy a copy of a work titled Moon Reflected on Erquan Spring. In May 1974, Li received a letter from Ormandy reporting that he wanted to perform the work in a series of year-end Philadelphia Orchestra concerts in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. Li forwarded the letter to Jiang, who referred the matter to her Cultural Group and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Chinese officials drafted a letter claiming that the composer of the work thought it had serious problems of artistic and social content and did not want it performed. Li was told to sign the letter, and it was sent to the Philadelphia Orchestra, which ended up abandoning plans to perform the work.

Richard Nixon
Photocopy of typed letter signed, to Eugene Ormandy

1 October 1973
Richard Nixon, pleased with the results of this effort at cultural diplomacy, wrote a letter of thanks to Ormandy during the week following their return. In the letter he alludes to the conflict with the Chinese over repertory.
Promotional flyer for the Fourth Annual Gala Opening Concert
The 1973-74 opening gala had been scheduled for 19 September but was rescheduled to 27 September to accommodate the trip to China.
Orchestra datebook for the Gala Opening Concert
Philadelphia, 27 September 1973
This slip, taken from the official datebook documenting all performances of the orchestra, lists the details of the concert as published in the printed program. The work that generated the most controversy during the tour- Respighi's Pines of Rome-was not programmed. Pianist David Epstein, who had performed the Yellow River Concerto with the orchestra in Saratoga a year earlier, returned to recap his performance, and soon after this performance he recorded the work with the orchestra.
The Campaign against Respighi

Within five months of the orchestra's visit, the tide had turned against cultural diplomacy with the West. During the tour, a member of the Central Philharmonic Society had described The Pines of Rome as brilliant in variations of color and tone," but this was now considered empty talk about changes in contrast and emotion" in an attempt to gloss over the class content of musical works so as to pull the wool over the eyes of the masses."

It is hard to know exactly who was behind this new attack on Western music. In a 1997 memoir, diplomat John H. Holdridge suggests that Zhou Enlai launched the attack to embarrass Jiang Qing, who had earlier launched her own attacks against him in an anti-Confucius campaign. Her enjoyment of the Beethoven Sixth was well known in China's inner-party circles and was seen as a potential point of weakness.

On the other hand, it was Zhou Enlai who had invited the orchestra to perform Western music in China in the first place. Could Jiang Qing have issued the statement, acting on her displeasure with The Pines of Rome? The identity of the person behind the attack is not clear, but this announcement marked the beginning of a renewed campaign against Western art that would continue for several years.

Joseph Lelyveld
China Renounces Respighi's Music"
New York Times, 15 February 1974
Jiang Qing's Later Years

Soon after the orchestra's visit, Zhou Enlai's health failed. He was hospitalized in 1974 and died in early 1976. When Mao Zedong died a few months later in September 1976, Jiang Qing and the other members of the Gang of Four were no longer under his protection and found themselves at odds with Zhou Enlai's successor, Hua Guofeng. Hua and others in power blamed the Gang of Four for the preceding decade of civil and social unrest. Public opposition to them mounted, and by the end of 1976 they had been expelled from the Communist Party and arrested.

At her trial in 1980-81, Jiang was accused of spreading civil unrest during the Cultural Revolution, but she was unfailingly defiant and denounced the country's new leaders. She received a suspended death sentence, which in 1983 was commuted to life imprisonment. She died in her cell in 1991, an apparent suicide.

Joseph Lelyveld
Jiang Qing during the Gang of Four trial
Supreme People's Court, Beijing, January 1981
Associated Press photograph
The 2012 Tour

The 1973 tour was the first of many for the Philadelphia Orchestra. They returned in 1993, 2008, 2010, and most recently in 2012. (Coincidentally, Beethoven's Symphony no. 6 was performed on the 2012 tour.) Here associate principal percussionist Anthony Orlando (left) watches principal percussion Christopher Deviney (right) examine a Chinese ceremony bell replica backstage at the National Centre for the Performing Arts. Orlando was one of eight orchestra members on the 2012 tour who had also participated in the 1973 tour thirty-nine years earlier. (He is seen in a photo earlier in the exhibit accepting a gong presented by the Chinese.)

Anthony Orlando and Christopher Deviney during the 2012 tour of China
National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing, 31 May 2012
Photograph by Chris Lee, courtesy of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
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