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“Beethoven in Beijing” film, book at County Theater


“Beethoven in Beijing” film, book at County Theater Bill Stieg On a February evening in 1973, President Nixon called Maestro Eugene Ormandy at home, asking him if he’d like to take his musicians to China. Ormandy jumped at the opportunity, paving the way for the Philadelphia Orchestra to become the first American orchestra to tour the People’s Republic. As the conductor would later say, the 10-day visit was “bigger than music.” Indeed, it was history and the focus of a documentary film and a new book created by Doylestown journalist Jennifer Lin. “Beethoven in Beijing” will screen at the County Theater at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 12, and feature a Q&A with Lin, co-director Sharon Mullally, and producer Sam Katz, founder of History Making Productions. Lin will also be signing her new book of the same name, an oral history of the 1973 China tour of the Philadelphia Orchestra, published by Temple University Press. “I wrote a book version of “Beethoven in Beijing” because there was more to tell,” says Lin, a former Beijing correspondent for The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I had spent years researching the history of classical music in China, but only a fragment of that material was included in the movie.” Lin decided to use that research, as well as fresh material, to weave an oral history of the China tour, a milestone in U.S.-China relations. Nixon has asked the Philadelphians to visit the country as cultural ambassadors. Their job was to win over the Chinese public, and they succeeded. Lin partnered with Katz to make the 90-minute film, which was broadcast nationally on PBS’s “Great Performances.” For the Doylestown resident, writing the book was a pandemic project. “Like all of us, I was stuck at home,” she said. “All the film festivals that we had planned on attending had shifted to virtual events. I needed something to focus my attention. I thought, why not write a book?” Starting with the tour in 1973, the film tells a broader story about how the revival of classical music in China is energizing the entire world of music. The book, in contrast, keeps the focus on the Ormandy visit. “In 1973, there were precious few Americans actually living in China,” the filmmaker says. “Now imagine the arrival of 130 Philadelphians. This was memorable both for the Americans and the Chinese musicians they encountered.” “I wanted to let them tell the story in their own words,” Lin says. The Philadelphia Orchestra opened up its archives, lending almost 100 photographs for the book. Lin also found a trove of new material, including unclassified diplomatic cables and excerpts from personal journals and newspaper reports. She notes that the book and film come at a time when relations between the United States and China are increasingly tense. She hopes the film reminds people of the power of culture to connect people. “That’s as true today as it was in 1973,” she says.

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