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Our Chair Paul Cutts reflects on the choir’s first few days on tour to China and Hong Kong, including a successful first concert at the Oriental Art Centre, Shanghai.
As The Bach Choir sopranos launched into Mo li hua, the audience at Shanghai’s Oriental Arts Centre spontaneously began applauding and singing along. The folk song about the fragrant jasmine flower is one of China’s most popular melodies. Our performance was the world premiere of Bob Chilcott’s brilliant arrangement, written especially for us. It proved a real hit and a genuinely emotional conclusion to the first of our four China tour concerts.
There have been so many Shanghai surprises – not least, the quality of the venue and the warm reception of concert-goers. We’d been warned to expect lots of noise, mobile phones and people leaving early but we experienced very little of that. Instead, as we sang our first premiere (Sir John Tavener’s meditation on three Scottish folksongs), the hush that descended was profound. So too was the rapt focus throughout Brahms’ Requiem – led with his usual effortless élan by our musical director David Hill. Add some British choral classics – including I Was Glad and Zadok the Priest – and a barnstorming Vierne organ solo from our assistant director Phil Scriven and we had a programme that challenged and delighted in equal measure.
Weibo, China’s equivalent of Facebook, is now humming with praise for the Choir’s performance and professionalism. But there’s no time to bask in critical glory; we’re already in Hangzhou, 150km from Shanghai, preparing for our concert tomorrow with the Hangzhou Philharmonic. Thanks to a day free of rehearsals and concerts this Sunday, we’ll also be able to relax on West Lake, a world heritage site and one of China’s most popular romantic beauty spots that nestles at the heart of the city.
This may be The Bach Choir’s first tour to mainland China but – like the fragrant jasmine flower in Mo li hua – there’s something irresistible about the place. I have a feeling it won’t be the last time we visit this fascinating, complex, dynamic and welcoming country.