Put together, orchestras in this country do a phenomenal amount of overseas touring, to the point where this area of activity has become central to their identity. The pull of the big population bases in Europe, Asia and the US is ever-present in the musicians’ minds: playing to them tests their artistic mettle, builds comradery, and justly fills their home audiences with pride.
Clocking up the most mileage of course is the Australian Chamber Orchestra: international travel is part of the diet of this potent ensemble. Since its formation in 1975 it has travelled overseas 65 times (by the present author’s count) which must be one of the most travelled orchestras in the world – besides being consistently adjudged one of its best. ACO has just completed a short tour of Japan, playing in Tokyo on 29 and 30 May; this follows its debut appearance in Finland as part of its five-countries-in-two-weeks European tour last November.
This year the ACO starts a three-year residency at London’s Milton Court Concert Hall in partnership with the Barbican Centre for the 2018/19 season. It follows Richard Tognetti’s assignation as the Barbican’s first ever Artist-in-Residence at Milton Court Concert Hall in 2016/2017.
For our big city orchestras it requires massive logistical efforts, huge planning and considerable financial resources to mount overseas tours, but this has now become a regular feature of their activity.
Their push into China over recent years in particular is remarkable. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has just returned from its six-cities-in-ten-days China tour in May under its chief conductor Andrew Davis. It performed Carl Vine’s V, Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1, Beethoven’s Eroica, Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.1, and Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, with violinist Lu Siqing and pianist Moye Chen as soloists.
Meanwhile the Sydney Symphony Orchestra toured China for its fifth time last year, and later this year will undertake a two-week European tour encompassing seven countries. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra also visited China in 2017, giving nine concerts in seven cities in a fortnight. And the West Australian Symphony Orchestra visited China in 2016, as part of a week-long concert tour to Abu Dhabi, Beijing and Shanghai.
Australian Youth Orchestra has also racked up some serious mileage over its lifetime of six decades. In 2016 it performed in Europe and China as part of its 22nd international tour. This year in March-April, the Sunshine Coast Youth Orchestra undertook a three-city tour in China in March-April 2018, and last August 18 students from the University of Queensland Symphony Orchestra were invited to perform with the Xi’an Symphony Orchestra.
We can expect the Queensland Symphony Orchestra to return to China soon following its first tour there in 1994 under its then chief conductor Muhai Tang. Ditto for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra: having played in Carnegie Hall in 2009, a China visit would make sense given that it signed a sponsorship deal with China Southern Airlines in 2017.
See our story Australia’s Orchestras Clamour for China here.
It seems overseas touring is moving from being a sideline activity to part of core business for Australia’s orchestral sector. It is part of representing our country abroad, strengthening cultural ties with our neighbours, and being a good global citizen. By bringing enjoyment to overseas audiences our orchestras have shown they can rise above politics and help occasional international tensions. Their efforts are to be celebrated.