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2014 Tour of Asia & China Residency: China Then and Now—One Musician’s Perspective

June 03, 2014

Associate Principal Percussion Anthony Orlando is among the handful of musicians still playing with The Philadelphia Orchestra today who made the historic first trip to China with Eugene Ormandy in 1973. He shares some of his thoughts on China then and now … and 40 years of touring.

During the historic 1973 Tour, the Central Philharmonic Society of China gave The Philadelphia Orchestra a new brass gong. Accepting the gift are Michael Bookspan (left) and Anthony Orlando.  

Q: What’s your most vivid memory of the 1973 Tour?

Tony Orlando: One of my most vivid memories from the ‘73 trip was standing on the Great Wall—quite alone since the Orchestra entourage and hosts were the only people on the Wall that day (now it’s mobbed)—looking out to the vast countryside and mountains beyond and contemplating who was out there and how they lived. It was like viewing an alien planet.

Q: How have things changed in China since then?

A: The changes are dramatic in Beijing and Shanghai. Overnight, seemingly, they are like LA and New York, with cars and immense congestion, and stunning skyscrapers. It is a great culture with wonderful people.

Anthony Orlando (left) with some new friends during the 1973 Tour.

Q: What do you like best about being on tour?

A: I love connecting with foreign audiences, having them respond to our music making.

Q: What has been your favorite moment so far? What are you most looking forward to?

A: My favorite moment so far has been performing Tan Dun’s harp, film, and orchestra piece [Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women] with him here in China with us. The first performance in Beijing was memorable. Then, near Shanghai, I was able to see and hear his Water Heavens in performance.

Q: What is the one thing you never go on tour without?

A: I purchased a wonderful leather carry-on bag for our first trip to China in ’73; I have taken it with me on every tour since. It’s my sidekick. It’s with me on this trip!

Q: What’s the most unexpected/surprising thing to happen to you on tour?

A: No surprises so far. I did go into old Macao and although I had read about it online, I was not expecting it to be so wonderful. The ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the fortress above transported me to another world and time. I am looking forward to seeing friends from the Philly area as well as some Japanese friends in Tokyo this week and performing in Suntory Hall, one of the world’s finest concert halls.  

Q:  The tour is wrapping up soon. What do you do on a 14-hour flight?

A: Our flight from Newark was almost 13 hours. I think I slept around 20 minutes, not ideal. I watched three good films and read my Kindle. About every two hours I get up and go for a walk in the aisles, do some stretching.