BBC National Orchestra of Wales goes to China

A blog from the East

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BBC NOW in ChinaIn between the end of the Cardiff season and the first of the Orchestra's 2012 Proms, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales embarked upon a two week tour of China as part of the UK Now festival.

The tour included concerts in Tianjin, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou and was to be our final tour with outgoing principal conductor, Thierry Fisher, whose tenure finishes at the end of August. We took several programmes of musical highlights, and our concerto soloists for the tour were our own principal horn and principal clarinet, Tim Thorpe and Rob Plane, whose performances went down a treat with the audiences.

In the East, audiences are not yet confined by our seemingly endless rules of etiquette concerning concert attendance and conduct. On each occasion, the opening of the ‘Infernal Danc’e from Stravinsky's The Firebird would elicit audible oohs from the audience, with the exhilarating ending compelling audience members to begin their applause and call out almost before it had finished. The reaction to Prokofiev's Classical Symphony was no less restrained; this was particularly gratifying as this is a difficult play for all involved! Our brass did us proud in Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, and guest principal flute, Michael Cox, provided exquisite solos in Fauré's Pavane and Debussy's Prélude a l'après-midi d'un faune. Ravel's Bolero was another firm audience favourite – this may be the only time in my career I get to hear an audience clap along with Bolero (not to mention singing along!).

Great Wall of ChinaPerhaps the most touching aspect of the concerts was the audience reaction to our second encore, a traditional Chinese song, 'My Motherland', orchestrated by Qigang Chen, with whom we worked during this year's Vale of Glamorgan Festival. Within the first few bars, the audience would be applauding and cheering and by the end they’d be on their feet.

We can be so precious about classical music and the sacred reverence of the concert hall that I feel at times we stop ourselves from being carried away with the experience. It was humbling and refreshing to engage with an audience for whom these experiences are still novel; an audience not wrapped up in the do's and don’t's we often kowtow to.

Touring can have many challenging and negative aspects. You leave family at home, adjust to a different climate, different food, and a different culture while combatting tiredness, cabin fever, and in my case, a multitude of mosquito bites. However, it also gives you the opportunity to bond with your colleagues in a way that is not always possible at home. Our viola section still giggles over the infamous ‘Calamari Incident’ of the 2009 Spanish tour (too rude to retell here!), and among my own group of friends, some of our best memories are from being tour. It is a great honour to be able to work in an industry that allows you to share your passion while seeing the world.

Laura Sinnerton is a viola player for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and she writes a blog for the BBC's Wales Music blog. Photography is by the orchestra's percussionist Chris Stock.