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Monday, September 10, 2018 4:12pm

Travel Diary: The Bush Concert goes to China


Words: Kane Moroney

It’s 8.30am on Monday 20 August, 2018, and there’s a general hubbub at the Adelaide Airport as the 12 members of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s travel party bound for Harbin, China, arrive. Their mission? To take our family concert, The Bush Concert, to the families of Harbin. This group consisted of 8 ASO musicians, 1 presenter, and three ASO support staff.

We arrive to rainy weather in Harbin at around 1pm on Tuesday 21; exiting the airport was like stepping into a greenhouse!

Fun fact - Harbin is known for its very cold winters (with temperatures as low as -30 degrees), and hosts a famous Ice Festival which transforms the city into a frozen wonderland.

The travel party arrives safely in Harbin

At Harbin airport we were greeted by our hosts for the week - Effy and Alan from the Harbin Foreign Affairs Division. We all loaded onto our minibus (which would be our trusty steed for our whole stay in Harbin) and made our way to the accommodation. Thankfully the time difference between Adelaide and Harbin isn’t treacherous - it’s only 1.5 hours difference - so we weren't too thrown off with jetlag.

The following day (Wednesday), was our first day of rehearsals for The Bush Concert at Harbin Concert Hall. We were performing in a smaller chamber music space within the venue, although got to do a little tour of the main concert hall (home to the Harbin Symphony Orchestra) at the end of rehearsals.

A wonderful 1200 seat auditorium greeted us, complete with a towering organ behind the concert stage. We had the space all to ourselves and wandered around exploring its many different angles. We noticed that there were video cameras mounted around the venue, which we later found out were used to record performances for broadcast and archival purposes - how awesome! The Harbin Concert Hall is the first in China to have this capability.

Fun fact - Harbin was the first city in China to have a symphony orchestra (founded in 1908), thanks to the influence of its Jewish population.

Outside the Harbin Concert Hall

Inside the Harbin Concert Hall’s main concert auditorium

This presentation of The Bush Concert is the first in the ASO’s history to be translated and presented in Chinese, which was learnt especially for this occasion by presenter Susan Ferguson (whose husband Mark composed the music). Susan hadn’t spoken a word of Chinese in her life before taking on this production, and with the assistance of Chinese teacher Maggie Gu, learnt the whole translation. It was clear as we began rehearsals that Susan was nailing her pronunciation - the Chinese speakers in the room could understand everything she was saying very clearly.

The ensemble rehearsed for the whole day, before winding up at around 4pm in the afternoon. That evening we explored Central Street shopping district and had dinner at the famous Hotel Modern - designed by a team of Russian engineers in a mixture of Japanese and European styles. The hotel opened in 1914, and serves a mixture of Russian and Chinese food.

After a spot of exploring post dinner, it was time to head back to the accomodation and rest. The following day, it was time for the first of two concerts!

A massive row of portrait painters on Central Street

On Thursday morning, we all dressed our best for the occasion of meeting the Vice-Mayor of Harbin. A special experience of Chinese ceremony for all of us! Later that morning we explored the Harbin Music Park - complete with statues of the great composers and topiary in the shape of music notation. This expansive park runs along one of the main arterial roads into the Harbin CBD, and is bordered by whistful lavender and sunflower fields.

Exploring the Harbin Music Park

Dressed to impress – we’re all about to meet the Vice Mayor of Harbin

After our morning of sightseeing we enjoyed a delicious lunch banquet (approximately  banquet number 5 or 6 of this trip...), before a little time to relax ahead of one final run-through followed by the evening’s performance.  The Bush Concert was about to receive its premiere in China, and in the Chinese language!

Audiences started filing into the venue at 6.30pm - children taking their seat on the mats on the floor and adults around the edges. By 7pm the hall was full, and it was showtime!

The lights dimmed, and the musicians made their way onstage to the sound of applause. Opening the performance was a Waltzing Matilda “mashie” arranged by Mark Ferguson, which combined elements of the Australian Anthem, Waltzing Matilda and You’re the Voice by John Farnham - a perfect Australiana prelude to The Bush Concert! After rousing applause, presenter Susan Ferguson made her first appearance for the evening. Striding on stage, she welcomed the children and their families, and began by showing them a few dance moves and songs so they could join in during the performance.

What struck us all was the way the Chinese embraced the experience. The children (and their parents) were singing and dancing along at every given opportunity. For us, it was a delight to behold! To finish the concert the ensemble performed another Mark Ferguson arrangement of a popular Chinese children’s song, Snail and Yellowbird. Everyone, young and old, sang along!

At the end of the concert, fans milled about waiting to catch a moment with the musicians - one little fan, Gary, snuck backstage to meet Susan and congratulate her on how perfect her Chinese was! Gary, at 8 years of age, spoke perfect English...

After the concert we made our way to a celebratory dinner, where we enjoyed what was perhaps a culinary highlight of the trip - “Big Toast”. That is, a warm loaf of bread with ice cream scoops on top.

The delicious delight that was “Big Toast”

Friday evening was the second and final performance of The Bush Concert - again with an incredibly receptive audience. And yes, Gary was back, sitting in the front row and ready to lead the way with the songs and actions. At the end of this concert we included an encore of the final song, Hullabaloo Reprise, from The Bush Concert. Everyone in the audience got to their feet and joined in with the song and actions led by Susan. It was amazing to see a room of children and adults all doing the brush turkey dance moves - flicking and kicking their feet whilst they walked in circles and flapped their arms! It's fair to say that everyone had a wonderful time at the concerts. 

Photos with some fans after the concert

That evening we celebrated with a night of Karaoke. We’d tell you more about this, but you know the saying - what happens on tour stays on tour. Let’s just say we had lots of fun!

Mission complete. We had achieved the first step in what will hopefully lead to more fruitful and exciting experiences for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. What a wonderful opportunity to take something uniquely Australian (and, very South Australian) and share it with the people of Harbin.

For all those on the trip, this was a special experience. Our wonderful hosts made it truly memorable. We all felt very thankful to have been given this opportunity to begin building relationships with the community of Harbin, and to share Australian music that was composed, performed and arranged by South Australian artists.

Here’s to more incredible experiences between the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and China in the years to come!


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