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Whenever I finish a tour blog I realize that there is no way to convey the hardships, small and large, that we share; the separation from family, friends, hobbies, familiar surroundings, the endless hours spent in lines at hotels and airports, the loneliness of hotel rooms, the frustration of not being able to read a menu or order a meal in a foreign language….it certainly looks exciting to travel the world, playing concerts in great concert halls with Zubin, but at the end of the day, work is work and it is certainly no summer camp.

With that in mind, one meal will stick in my memory from the Far East tour…here recorded in photos. Imagine a street restaurant in Xiamen; 3 tables, a Styrofoam fish tank, charcoal grill. Our waitress greets us, pulls a fish out for us to inspect, weighs our dinner, then proceeds to knock it out and gut it on the floor.

In 4 minutes he’s roasting over charcoals, and 8 minutes later submersed in soup with mushrooms, potatoes, zucchini, radishes and hot peppers. When he arrives at the table, our fish friend is boiling away in a vegetable broth, bottom pan is water, second pan in charcoals and the top is our fish. We go at it with chop sticks!

….a true China experience!

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The IPO completed its tour of the Far East with visits to Xiamen and Zhuhai in the south of China. Zhuhai sits between Macau and Hong Kong.

A bridge will soon connect the three cities making Zhuhai the center of this financial/vacation/gambling powerhouse. It is also a lovely area with long beaches and a promenade along the sea that stretches forever; it’s a bit like Florida.

From the concert hall we could see Macau across the river. After the last concert the orchestra was invited by the local presenter to celebrate 20 years of visits in China. In 1994 we were first in China with Yitzhak Perlman in Beijing and Shanghai. Many of us still remember the crowds of bicycles and construction sites which were to become roads and buildings.

At the reception the Mayor of Zhuhai spoke of their cultural aspirations and then a hand print of Zubin Mehta was made for the concert hall.

From Zhuhai, we went by ferry to Hong Kong airport. The flight was straight home with a little delay of 4 hours; 2 days off then back to rehearsing for the IPO Gala at the Hilton.

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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.

We arrived at the hotel at midnight, beginning a two day visit of morning rehearsals and evening concerts.

Zubin first in line for China

The IPO performed the final concerts of the Shanghai International Arts Festival, part of Expo 2010.

Shanghai International Arts Festival

The adventurous in the orchestra shopped in the afternoon and came back to the concerts with stories of successful bargaining for shirts, dresses, watches and even musical instruments. It’s hard to beat orchestra members at the shouk when Middle-East meets Far-East.

The second concert featured a televised “showcase” ceremony (in Chinese, of course) starring an entourage from the city’s ministry of culture.  As soon as the speeches ended and the Chinese National Anthem was sung the media raced out and Zubin started the concert.

The hotel had free internet in the lobby and after the concert, the IPO opened its own internet café.  It was a pretty comic scene as 40 laptops appeared and musicians busied themselves with calling home by computer, or sending emails.

free internet in the lobby