The Orchestra returned from the 6-concert tour of China last night – unfortunately with long delays for one of the flights due to the cold weather.
News from the tour from violinist Kate Birchall:
Our time in Shanghai was woefully short as the day we arrived we had a scant couple of hours free before rehearsal and concert. Not quite long enough to orientate ourselves in yet another glass and concrete jungle of sky scrapers before heading across to the curiously shaped Oriental Arts Centre.
An early start on the second day ensured that I’d make it over the river into the old town and see the Yu Yuan gardens before the weekend crowds were out in force. The surrounding bazaar, restored to the point where you felt you were walking round a film set, was teaming with Chinese tourists munching on the local delicacy of steamed dumplings by the time I came out of the gardens. A meandering walk took me through building sites, cramped narrow alleys thronging with life and leafy suburbs with yet more high rise blocks sprouting where ever you look. I was disappointed that the Bund too was swathed in construction bill boards which meant you could see little of the historic buildings.
It took us all day to get from Shanghai to Beijing thanks to the recent snow fall in Beijing and the Buddist vegetarian restaurant a few of us had set our sights on was just locking up as we arrived for dinner. It’s funny: I never thought that Beijing would ever feel like a familiar city but by this, our third visit in 6 years, the collective knowledge of the orchestra, the half remembered restaurants and must-see recommendations for sights, means that it’s surprisingly easy to navigate. The Olympic legacy is also noticeable with far more signs and information translated into English.
Undeterred by sub zero temperatures, well below the average for the time of year, Sioni and I headed out to the Forbidden City the next morning. It was breathtaking in the snow with the sun adding extra brilliance which contrasted with my memory of the Palace as a grey, prison of a place. Clutching my hand warmer I inched my way around as the Imperial marble proved to be treacherous underfoot in the ice. The orchestra was on great form for the last couple of concerts in the generous acoustic of the National Centre for Performing Arts and the The Firebird was particularly exquisite on the last night.