Denver Philharmonic Gears Up For A 14-City Tour Of China

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Photo: Denver Philharmonic in concert
The Denver Philharmonic with music director and conductor Lawrence Golan, center.

Conductor Lawrence Golan, the music director of the Denver Philharmonic, recently received an unusual offer from a company that owns and manages concert halls in China.

They asked him to do a 24-day concert tour of the country. And to bring an orchestra.

Golan said yes. Then he had to organize it.

A 24-day international tour is a huge feat for any orchestra. It’s an especially big feat for the Denver Phil, a group of mostly unpaid musicians that puts on just six concerts a year.

A Chinese company Golan worked with in the past, called Beijing Poly Theater, will pay for the musicians’ travel and lodging once they arrive in China. They’ll play huge cities like Beijing and Shanghai, as well as many other places his musicians hadn’t heard of.

“But once you get there you find out they’re actually bigger than New York," Golan said.

The tour of China starts June 17 -- though the orchestra will perform the concert in Denver on Friday for its Colorado audiences. The program, subtitled "Eurotrip," includes music by Cesar Franck, Bedrich Smetana and Johann Strauss Jr. -- as well as George Gershwin's "An American in Paris."

Photo: Lawrence Golan conductor
Lawrence Golan, music director of the Denver Philharmonic.

Golan conducted ensembles on tours of China in the past, and developed an understanding of the differences between American and Chinese classical audiences.

For instance, he says Chinese audiences don’t respond to a live orchestra the same way American listeners do.

“There, it’s almost a lackluster appreciation after each piece throughout the concert,” Golan said. “But then we get to the end, and after the last piece they keep screaming and screaming and demanding encores.”

The conductor says he’s excited to see how the 63 orchestra members he recruited will grow on tour.

Rather than perform the concert program just once -- like they do in Denver -- they’ll get the rare chance to refine how they play the music.

“It really allows for some musical expression and spontaneity that you don’t get from a one-time concert,” he said. “We’ll do things a little differently each time.”

Golan says his Chinese collaborators made just one musical demand during the planning process: more Chinese pieces on the program.

Golan added a few, including a patriotic Chinese piece called “Ode to the Red Flag.” Golan said he’s excited to conduct it on tour. It will open each concert, and he thinks it will leave an impression.

"We are representing not only Denver and Colorado but in a sense the U.S.A. So what I want the listeners to go away with after the concert is, 'Wow, the U.S. really has some great orchestras,'” he said.

“Ode to the Red Flag” requires a big, powerful brass section. Golan says that’s something American orchestras -- including the mostly-volunteer Denver Philharmonic -- are world-famous for doing well.