May 13 2009

From Heinz Hall to the Great Wall

Published by at 12:35 pm under PSO 2009 Asian Tour

PSO musicians Betsy Heston and Neal Berntsen at the Great Wall

PSO musicians Betsy Heston and Neal Berntsen at the Great Wall

PSO musicians Betsy Heston and Neal Berntsen at the Great Wall

While sifting through the photos I took today, I’ve been listening to MTV China on the hotel TV. You have to wonder what Chairman Mao would have thought about the Pussycat Dolls, Madonna, Britney Spears and Janet Jackson cavorting in the People’s Republic. There’s some Chinese rock and a Chinese rapper in something called simply ‘Eight.’ A group named Super Junior sang their song Sorry Sorry to an electro dance beat with the English words “Let’s Dance” appearing on screen now and then. I haven’t heard any classical music on the radio. It’s mostly talk with the few pop stations playing what sounds like knock offs of Western hits. There is still some popular radio drama on the radio although I think it’s mostly soap opera. The taxi driver was listening to an old-school radio drama on the trip today.

I was watching for Madame Mao’s limousine which you can rent for a tour. The New York Times reported last year that the bulletproof black stretch limo with red velvet trim will take you on a 50 minute tour. You can sip Möet & Chandon champagne with a personal tour guide from the Red Detachment of Women while Mao’s voice crackles on the radio — all for the bargain price of $270.

PSO Asian Tour Slideshow

The Great Wall of China feels every bit as steep as it looks. About half of the Pittsburgh Symphony ignored the ominous signs suggesting that if you have heart or brain disease you should take it easy. It was a perfect day for the hour-long ride to the Ju Yong Guan section where we walked a little over a mile of the 3,000 mile wall. Our guide told us it’s a myth that you can see it from space. It does nearly disappear along the way, including at a spot near the end of the today’s hike. At the summit, Trumpeter Neal Berntsen and Tubist Craig Knox saluted Bayer Corporation for its support of the symphony and the weekly concerts broadcast Sundays at 8:00 pm on Classical QED 893. PSO Director of Corporate Support Liz Helmsen organized a photo to thank tour sponsors including the Hillman Endowment.

Kate Black treads carefully

Kate Black treads carefully

Kate Black treads carefully

Violinist Jeremy Black and his wife Kate enjoyed the ascent. Kate impressed everyone with her Chinese sun hat. Concertmaster Andres Cardenes was there, along with PSO CEO Larry Tamburri, Dr. Ted Osial and his daughter, CMU student Alyssa Osial. Hornist Robert Lauver, Resident Conductor Lawrence Loh, and Cellist Irv Kaufmann were also among the climbers.

On the return, we had plenty of time to contemplate Beijing traffic in this city of 15 million. The return trip was nearly two hours. The greenery and flowers along the route amaze; especially the thousands of roses in orange and many other shades. If the plan was to hide some of the rough and tumble concrete buildings behind greenery in time for last year’s Olympic games, it was a great success.

This morning, I joined percussionists Jeremy Branson and Andrew Reamer with Mrs. Reamer, Ruth Ann Dailey, who you may know as the Post Gazette columnist who served as a regular for a season of WQEDtv’s Off Q.

We took a taxi to the Temple of Heaven where the Emperors prayed for a good harvest beginning in the 14th Century. It’s a Unesco World Heritage Site, and a $6 million dollar restoration effort has it looking great. I noticed an exhibit featuring world leaders who have done the tour including Richard Nixon. We found some Divine Music Administration playing cards in the gift shop featuring the Emperor’s instruments. We heard some traditional singing and playing, too. A crowd gathered ’round to sing along when they knew the folk tunes.

The Pittsburgh Symphony will open its tour with Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration, Christopher Rouse’s Rapture (written for the PSO) and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 tomorrow night after a morning rehearsal. We’ll be up and out of the hotel at 8:30 am.