“Please hold for the President.”
That’s how an extraordinary chapter in cultural and diplomatic history began. It was 1973, and President Richard Nixon was calling Maestro Eugene Ormandy with big news: The communist government of China had invited the Philadelphia Orchestra to tour the country.
Even for this world-renowned orchestra, the moment was huge. The People’s Republic of China had been sealed off for nearly a quarter-century. Mao Zedong had clamped down on anything Western—classical music was banned, musicians silenced. But now this?
Nixon’s visit the previous year was a diplomatic breakthrough, but he wanted to follow up with a cultural bridge. He hoped that a people-to-people connection would help melt the frosty, mutually suspicious relationship between the two nations.
In this breezy oral history, we witness up-close the historic tour through the eyes and ears of the wide-eyed American visitors and their curious Chinese hosts. American musicians embraced acupuncture and Chinese citizens discovered the Frisbee. And a new era in international relations began.
The cast includes cautious diplomats and the imperious Madame Mao; a harried maestro and a wise-cracking Philly sportswriter; and most important, musicians from both countries who bonded over their love of music.
The book grew out of History Making Production's acclaimed documentary of the same name, which aired nationally on PBS’s Great Performances.
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