06 April 2012

Michael Fuller writes: Yes, Richard, I have also often contemplated the mysterious power of "the handbag", an item that to us men seems to only serve the practical purpose of carrying things around from point "A" to point "B" but to women around the world seems to have acquired an almost-mystical power. Yet however much I ponder this phenomenon (particularly after an exhausting day being dragged from shop to shop), it remains a great mystery to me, and perhaps always will...

Right, so we played Mahler 5 in Beijing last night, and it was extra-special for me because my parents in-law were in attendance. This tour was the first time they've heard the Philharmonia, and they were simply blown away by the orchestra's sound. They especially loved our principal horn Nigel Black's horn solo in the 3rd movement, and said they'd generally never heard such wonderful brass playing before. It was really fun to hear all their impressions about the orchestra after the concert, and a real treat to share this part of our lives with them!

Beijing is a city that feels distinctly different from Hong Kong, Guangzhou, or Shanghai. Beijing strikes me as more like the "communist" China we may have imagined or seen in magazines when we were younger. Chairman Mao's portrait still adorns the front of the entrance to the Forbidden City, and the boulevards are grand and wide, reminding you that this is the capital of the most populous nation on Earth. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of new skyscrapers and shopping centers, it's just that it's all so, well...imperial is the word that comes to mind. In fact, one senses a certain continuity between the Chinese dynasties of ancient times, through the Communist era, and into today. In all cases the state is king, and Beijing is and has been the seat of that power. Everything here is on a massive, almost super-human scale. I felt very small crossing Tienamen square to reach the concert hall. (Well, not necessarily compared to all the Chinese people around me, but you get the idea...)

The National Center for the Performing Arts is no exception, the complex includes an opera house, a symphony hall and other smaller performance spaces. In fact it took so long to walk to through to the backstage that they actually posted a sign saying "Philharmonia, keep going!" I took that as not only a practical direction in this instance, but as a statement that could also be our credo! We will indeed keep going- next stop is Seoul, South Korea and we'll have a special guest blog contribution from violinist Soong Choo, our "Seoul Correspondent". Stay tuned!