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The Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra (NUSO) enjoyed a successful three-city tour of Asia from March 23 to April 1, 2018, presenting concerts in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Eighty-seven of the Bienen School of Music’s top undergraduate and graduate student musicians took part in this unforgettable experience.

A total of 4,200 audience members attended the three concerts on tour. Northwestern alumni and supporters responded enthusiastically to the professional-level talent of the students, giving standing ovations for the orchestra’s performances of Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler and Symphonic Dances from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein.

Maestro Victor Yampolsky, conductor of NUSO, holds the Carol F. and Arthur L. Rice Jr. University Professorship in Music Performance at Northwestern University. He has served as director of orchestras and taught conducting at the Bienen School for more than 30 years.

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Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro and Provost Jonathan Holloway hosted special dinners and post-concert alumni receptions in each city on the Asia tour. Additionally, Robert McQuinn, Vice President for Alumni Relations and Development; Toni-Marie Montgomery, Dean of the Bienen School of Music; and seven members of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees and their spouses participated in several activities throughout the 10-day itinerary.

“I was personally moved by the hosts at each of the alumni receptions who commented on the power of music, the universal language, in bringing together individuals from the United States and China,” said Dean Montgomery. “All of us in the Bienen School of Music are honored to have played this important role in bridging cultures through music.”

NUSO’s first full day in Beijing included a dress rehearsal and evening concert in the Forbidden City Concert Hall, one of the largest performance halls in the city and a frequent host to the Beijing Symphony Orchestra and the China Philharmonic. A post-concert alumni reception also took place at the venue, with more than 200 guests in attendance.   

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Following the successful performance at Forbidden City Concert Hall, students spent a full day in China’s capital visiting some of the major cultural sites. Several members of the Northwestern delegation joined students for a combined tour of the Great Wall of China. Students also visited a local jade market and enjoyed a traditional Beijing duck dinner that evening.

NUSO’s final day in Beijing featured visits to the historic sites of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. After lunch in Beijing and some last-minute shopping, the orchestra boarded a high-speed train and traveled to its next stop, Shanghai, arriving on the evening of March 27.

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The next morning, after a leisurely morning of park strolls and tea tastings, musicians headed to the beautiful Shanghai Symphony Hall for their second dress rehearsal and concert of the Asia tour.

The entire orchestra, as well as Maestro Yampolsky, noted the impressive sound quality in this hall and declared it their favorite performance venue of the tour. The beauty of the space combined with superior acoustics resulted in an exceptional concert that was well received by local audiences.

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A post-concert alumni reception was held in Shanghai Symphony Hall, with approximately 160 Northwestern alumni and guests in attendance.

On the orchestra’s free day in Shanghai, students visited the Yu Garden, explored the many shops in Shanghai’s Old City district, and experienced the breathtaking views of the Bund on a skyline harbor cruise.

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On Friday, March 30, students departed their hotel for an early morning flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong – the final stop on the orchestra’s three-city tour of Asia. Students spent their first afternoon in Hong Kong sightseeing around Victoria Peak, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Evening entertainment included the famous “Symphony of Lights” show at Victoria Harbour, which featured recorded music performed by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

Students spent their last full day in Asia exploring and shopping in Hong Kong’s Stanley Market before traveling to Tsuen Wan Town Hall Auditorium for their final afternoon dress rehearsal. After the rehearsal, the orchestra split up to enjoy dinner at various local establishments near the performance venue.

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NUSO’s final performance of the tour took place at on Saturday, March 31. Despite it being a holiday weekend, more than 1,100 people attended the Hong Kong concert.

“Nothing compares to the feeling of communicating with so many people through music,” said Layne Hartman, an undergraduate double bass student. “The applause after each and every concert was overwhelming. Not only do I feel like we were able to show off NUSO, but we also received some unforgettable experiences and friendships.”

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Following the Hong Kong performance, students joined the Northwestern alumni reception at L’hotel Nina et Convention Centre, where they were able to meet and converse with Northwestern alumni and donors and celebrate three successful concerts. A total of 165 people attended the Hong Kong reception.

The next morning, NUSO departed Hong Kong for Chicago, marking the end of a historic tour for the Bienen School of Music and Northwestern University.

See more photos from the tour