China Tour Part 2: A Fine Romance

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In the second instalment of our official tour blog, our Chair Paul Cutts relives the sounds and sights of our stay in Hangzhou, including a collaboration with the city’s philharmonic orchestra.

The choir performed Brahms' Requiem with the Hangzhou Philharmonic Orchestra at the city's Grand Theatre on Saturday night.

The choir performed Brahms’ Requiem with the Hangzhou Philharmonic Orchestra at the city’s Grand Theatre on Saturday night.

West Lake in Hangzhou, the latest stop on our China tour, has inspired centuries of poets and painters. A tranquil green oasis surrounded by a harsh landscape of unrelenting urbanism, it’s also known as the most romantic destination in the country.

There’d been great anticipation about our second concert at the Hangzhou Grand Theatre, as we had never had the opportunity to hear the venue’s resident orchestra. Formed just five years ago, the ensemble comprises some 60 enthusiastic young players, most under the age of 30. Our music director David Hill had gone ahead of the Choir to rehearse them.

It was clear when the singers arrived that David had forged a very strong working relationship with these talented players. And despite a crowded platform (a very tight squeeze for 120 singers, perched precariously on plastic stools) it was evident that the venue’s acoustic was marvellous: rich, warm and reverberant.

There are performances where everything seems to gel and this proved to be one of them. As in Shanghai, we were overwhelmed by the diverse age range of the audience, with lots of infants and children accompanied by grandparents, mixed in with business people and the Choir’s own loyal supporters who have travelled with us. The only frustration was that the theatre management hadn’t released more tickets for sale. As an unknown quantity ourselves in Hangzhou, the promoter had worried that The Bach Choir would not be a hit. In the event, we found out hundreds of people had been turned away.

We closed with a roof-raising Hallelujah Chorus encore but it was the folksong Mo Li Hua in Bob Chilcott’s marvellous arrangement that once more brought the audience to its feet. It’s been so affecting seeing the looks of delight and surprise as we sing in Mandarin. We’re beginning to fall in love with Chinese audiences as they are with The Bach Choir. It seems West Lake is still working its romantic magic.