The orchestra comes to town

JISHOU, HUNAN — Tonight, my three student guides accompanied me to a concert by the China Philharmonic Orchestra (中国爱乐乐团), which came to Jishou especially for the university’s 50th anniversary celebration.

It was terrific. They performed works by Beethoven, Strauss (“Emperor Waltz”), Bizet (“Overture to Carmen“) and other pieces I am ashamed to say I did not recognize, as well as Chinese melodies.

The conductor spent some of the concert introducing the instruments to a packed audience. The musicians assisted in the lessons by playing short tunes on their instruments, ranging from Mozart to the theme from the movie Titanic and “If you’re happy and you know it.”

The orchestra wants to expose more Chinese to Western orchestral music. From my perspective, they were doing an excellent job.

The venue was one of the athletics facilities here, a field house used for both basketball and badminton (did I mention that badminton is big around here?). I expected the acoustics to be awful, but where we were sitting (left front center orchestra), the sound was great. I suspect we were shown to good seats because of me, but I cannot be sure.

It was a bit sticky in there, however, since the humidity lately has been equivalent to a sauna. Fortunately, it cools off pretty quickly after sunset, so the humidity was bearable.

Afterward, two young ladies dressed in Miao traditional dress presented the conductor and the first violin with bouquets. The Miao are an indigenous people here, one of China’s officially recognized minorities. Jishou is the capital city of the autonomous prefecture for the Miao and Tujia minorities.

Christopher and Ava know one of the young women (who they say is actually not Miao, but from northern China), and asked if she would pose with me for a photo. All the Miao-dressed representatives in fact posed with me, which started a parade of locals who all wanted their pictures taken with the white guy. One woman had her photo taken with me twice, no less.

Ah, the perks of celebrity … or something.

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