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Last stop on the Far East Tour was the Royal Palace of the Kingdom of Thailand. To celebrate the 80th birthday of Her Majesty the Queen, the Israel Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta performed an outdoor concert in front of the palace; a concert televised to the entire country.

The program included Beethoven, Mozart, Rimski Korsakov, and Brahms’ First Symphony. Soloists for the Mozart Concertante were Concertmasters Ilya Konovalov and Roman Spitzer.

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It was pouring in Taipei but we stepped off the plane in Seoul to an icy minus 11! The view from the hotel was snow capped roofs and the frozen river. Beneath our windows was an outdoor skating rink! As always, the favorite foods were Korean Barbeque (grilling your meat at the table over charcoals), Ginsang Chicken (boiling chicken in spicy greens in a huge pot of soup on the table) or “Buboghi” (beef stew bubbling in a ceramic pot, hot from the oven). Kimchi (spicy, pickled cabbage) and garlic on the side to keep you warm!

Koreans are fiercely patriotic. They have built a modern economy which leads the Far East: Samsung, LG, Kia and Hyundai: giants of world industry. The Israel Philharmonic and Maestro Mehta helped to celebrate another successful Korean New Year with 2 concerts at the Seoul Arts Center.

The anthems of both Korea and Israel, led by a singer in traditional Korean ceremonial dress, were sung at the beginning of each concert. A festive reception in honor of Zubin and Nancy Mehta, and the IPO, was attended by the General Directors of Kia Industries, Hyundai Heavy Industries, Hyundai Shipyards, and Bank of America alongside the Israeli ambassador to Korea and his military attaché.

The hosts for the evening were Rami and Yael Ungar and their family. As Zubin humbly said, “We musicians are just crumbs next to these giants of industry,” but these “giants” were full of admiration for Mehta and the musical message of the Israel Philharmonic. Following the second concert in Seoul, a huge auto carrier ship capable of transporting 6500 new cars was christened in Hyundai shipyards by Mrs. Nancy Mehta.

Concertmasters Ilya Konovalov and Roman Spitzer performed Mozart’s Symphonia Concertante during the New Year’s tour of the Far East. They appeared in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People before an audience of 6000 people!

Ilya Konovalov and Roman Spitzer playing Mozart Concertante

Ilya Konovalov and Roman Spitzer playing Mozart Concertante

Other appearances took place in Shenzhen, Seoul and Bangkok at the Royal Palace.

After the People’s Republic, it was clear that a different spirit rules in Taiwan: colorful streets, crowds of shoppers, families vacationing at the hotel and the stage and IPO musicians decorated with orchards.

The best moment of the concert was when Taipei’s audience joined us in the Radetsky March: Zubin helped them with some conducting, but they performed as if they had studied the score beforehand!

The Israel Philharmonic is making a quick visit to the Far East to celebrate New Years in China, Taiwan, Korea and Thailand. Surprisingly, modern China is full of Christmas and New Years symbols, from Santa Klaus and “Jingle Bells” to an authentic New Years concert “direct” from the Vienna’s Musikverien at the Great Hall of the People conducted by Zubin Mehta.

The holidays are completely detached from their original religious meaning; instead they serve as a good reason to celebrate a new era in China.

With the orchestra visiting Guangzhou, Beijing and Shenzhen, we are only scratching the surface of the most prosperous and modern part of China. In the background is the constant noise of building; banging on steel and pouring of concrete; the work going on 24 hours a day, even over the 3 day holiday. From our hotel, the work lights blaze into the night while floor after floor are added at a nearby building site. From our hotel in Guangzhou, we saw older neighborhoods of 2 and 3 story apartments waiting to be leveled to make room for the next skyscraper.

China is a vast land, and we are seeing only the most developed “crust”. There’s a strange mix of old and new but the conflict between the symbols of prosperity, McDonald’s and Mercedes, and quality of life, remains a mystery to us as tourists.

For a look at the “old” China, one has to go down to the Pearl River where groups of older women go through the steps of folk dances, couples practice tai-chi, or the occasional group of middle-aged warriors battle with ceremonial swords.
On the street, one sees only young people. The evenings belong almost solely to young couples strolling in the artificial parks with neon lily ponds, light chains in the trees and a horizon of the last bits of downtown space.

The Israel Philharmonic has made it a tradition to celebrate New Years with the Chinese People and Zubin Mehta is our ambassador of Viennese goodwill! Strauss greats; The Gypsy Baron Overture, Roses from the South, Bahn Frei Polka, Annen Polka, Voices of Spring Waltz. Tritsch Tratsch and many others were televised from the Great Hall of the People.

The Great Hall was decorated to imitate the Musikverein in Vienna, the waltzes were danced by China’s own ballet stars, and even in the Morgenblatter Waltz (The Morning Journals Waltz) the audience was treated to live Chinese calligraphy the entire width of the stage.

New Years, a three day holiday in China, continues with concerts in Shenzhen and Taipei.

Orchestra members dressed warmly in the minus13 cold and enjoyed their own celebration at the hotel after the concert.