We went to China!

The Orchestra was recently invited to play a series of concerts in China.

One of our members, principal flute Lynda Robertson, shares her experience:


On 26th December 2017 the Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra set off to tour China with organisers Sammi Sheng and her colleague, Lulu, our conductor Benjamin Ellin and our soloists, violinist Artem Kotov and baritone Terence den Dulk.

There was snow on the tops near the M62 summit as we travelled to Manchester Airport on Boxing Day. Airside, we spent a pleasant hour or so in the upstairs restaurant as we waited for our gate number.

After a bustling changeover in Istanbul, two decent Turkish Airlines meals, and what seemed the longest night of our lives, we were finally descending into Shanghai, then filling in arrival cards and reclaiming our luggage.


Arriving at the Rayfont Downtown Hotel, we had barely half an hour to freshen up before the coach took us to the Cheers Café, which had given over its upstairs room to our group and put on a special Slaithwaite Philharmonic Menu for us, with the choice of fish and chips, roast chicken, or American burger and chips. It was a lovely gesture of welcome for us and beautifully cooked. Afterwards, some people chose to visit The Bund down by the river, four of them returning to the hotel on a tuqtuq after ‪2am because they were unable to get a taxi!


After an interesting breakfast of dumplings, a porridge-style rice concoction, little bread buns with an interesting sweet filling, and an array of noodle and meat dishes that we westerners would not normally associate with breakfast-time, we had free time to explore Shanghai before our afternoon rehearsal. Some people went to the beautiful Yuyuan Gardens, while others went shopping, for a walk, or rested.


Our first rehearsal was quite long because we had so many new, unfamiliar items to prepare. (Subsequent rehearsals were much shorter.) The concert hall was reasonably full, in an amazing venue where international orchestras perform. As this was our first concert, with a new programme in a high-profile venue, we were all careful to do our best, but I believe we also made the music exciting, and the audience seemed to appreciate it. It was a real privilege to play at that venue and we were fortunate to get that opportunity because of our orchestra’s long history.


Shanghai Symphony Hall

The following day we began the actual touring, with a long journey every day and a new concert venue in a different city every evening, covering several provinces. Once out of Shanghai we saw the “real China” where foreign visitors are a rarity. The people were genuinely delighted to welcome us and many wanted to have their photo taken with us or get our autograph, which could be a little disconcerting at times. One night, after our concert in Yueyuang, over thirty of us poured into a medium-sized restaurant, well after 10pm. Once the staff got over the shock of so many foreign guests arriving unannounced, they found us two large adjacent side-rooms and served the most interesting and tasty meal. The staff member who spoke English was genuinely interested in our tour and said he would certainly come to our concert next time we visit!


Most of our destinations were reached by excellent high-speed trains, from which we enjoyed watching the changing scenery and gained an impression of how rural China contrasts with the rapidly developing cities. One highlight of the trains was the day we were informed that the train was changing direction at a station we had stopped at, and we were all required to rotate our seats by 180° so that we could continue travelling facing forwards.


Our schedule:
28/12/17 – Shanghai Symphony Hall
29/12 – Dushu Lake Theatre, Suzhou, Jiangsu Province
30/12 – Yueyuang Culture and Artistic Convention and Exhibition Centre, Hunan Province
31/12 – Pingxiang Grand Theatre, Jiangxi Province
1/1/18 – Jiangxi Artistic Centre, Nanchang, Jiangxi Province
2/1 – Xingyan Hall, Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province
3/1 – Foshan Nanhai Cinema Theatre, Foshan, Guangdong Province
4/1 – Guilin Grand Theatre, Guilin, Guangxi Province
5/1 – Beihai People’s Theatre, Beihai, Guangxi Province



The venues varied greatly: from the wonderful Shanghai Symphony Hall to large, chilly, functional spaces (such as the Foshan Nanhai Cinema), to smaller spaces not unlike places where we might perform in the UK (e.g. the Xingyan Hall, Zhaoqing). But everywhere we received a warm welcome. A typical reception was that at Yueyuang, where the audience was noisy but appreciative and included large numbers of children, who thoroughly enjoyed it – some were even “conducting” from the front row! The audiences loved the solos: Artem’s stylish interpretation of Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, paired with either Bach or Beethoven, and Terry’s Danny Boy and especially his Cavatina Figaro, during which he would walk around the auditorium as he sang the central section. We usually played two encores: a Chinese film song, translated as “Velvet Blossom”, and always the Radetsky March. As the cellos played the introduction to the former, a murmur of recognition would rise from the audience: they loved this familiar song, beautifully performed by our guest trombonist Rhiannon Symonds. Radetsky was a clear favourite too, and we would usually play the final section of this once more, Ben turning to conduct the audience as they clapped out of time!


Artem Kotov Terence den Dulk


Our programme:

  • Shostakovich: Festive Overture
    Ellin: River Cities
    Bizet: Toreador’s Song
    Elgar: Nimrod
    Beethoven: Violin Romance No 1
    Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen
    Walton: Spitfire Prelude and Fugue
    Zheng Lu Mahong: Great News from Beijing

  • Strauss: Thunder and Lightning Polka
    Verdi: The Force of Destiny Overture
    Trad., arr Percy Grainger: Danny Boy
    Rossini: Cavatina Figaro, Largo al Factotum from The Barber of Seville
    Mussorgsky: A Night on the Bare Mountain
    Mascagni: Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana
    Strauss: Auf der Jagd Polka
    Trad. arr Cheng Yuan: Velvet Blossom
    Strauss: Radetzky March


The constant travelling and venue changes went surprisingly smoothly. Minor mishaps included: music left in the hotel having to be couriered by taxi to the concert venue at the last minute and nearly not arriving in time; music left at a venue but not noticed missing until the next day having to be hurriedly reprinted at the hotel; and a wallet accidentally left on a coach late in the tour having to be couriered back to Shanghai before we headed home. There’s also the story of Adam (percussionist) being pulled over at the train security checks. He went to his case, pulled out the offending bag and proceeded to hook up one of the items, stood to attention, and played a ting on it – it was a triangle that had raised concerns on the x-ray! A little round of applause, and he was allowed to go through.


Our last venue, Beihai, was on the south coast, close to the South China Sea. Again the audience was warm and receptive, the venue large and well filled. This concert was very special, being the last time that this unique collection of musicians would play together as a whole. We all played at our very best, and even those of us who had succumbed to coughs, colds or flu symptoms rose to the occasion. The audience would have liked to take photos with us as we left the building, but we had to board the coach straightaway to get to Nanning Airport before the motorway closed ‪at 2am.




I remember wishing that we could return to Shanghai Symphony Hall the following night to play the whole programme one last time, with the confidence and assurance in ourselves and each other that we had gained throughout the tour.


After our internal flight from Nanning back to Shanghai, we had several hours to explore before our long flight home. A large group of us opted to travel on the Maglev (Magnetic Levitation) train, which covers the 19 miles into Shanghai in just seven minutes. On the return journey it reached 378kph and we could certainly feel the train tilting, much more than we had noticed with the cross-country high-speed trains, which had nevertheless given many of us a constant feeling that we were swaying that lasted for a few days after our return to the U.K.


There was little free time throughout our full schedule, but the places of interest that some of us managed to visit included the Yueyuang Tower in Hunan Province, the Pavilion of Prince Teng at Nanchang, The Sun and The Moon Towers at Guilin and the beautiful Liang Gardens: a peaceful haven in the centre of Foshan, owned by the grandparents of Tammy Liang, one of our guest violin players from the Royal Northern College of Music.

There would, of course, have been much more to see, had we not been travelling such huge distances by day and giving a concert every night.


Rhiannon Symonds Suzhou Concert Hall Artem, Terry and Ben


It was essential to have a few native speakers of Mandarin Chinese with us. When going out without them, we always took an address card from the hotel, as well as our intended destination written in Chinese, which the taxi drivers could understand. The little bit of Chinese that a handful of us had learned before this trip was not adequate for complex conversations, but phone translation apps proved extremely useful, and some of the locals also used these to communicate with us. Nevertheless, a few of us did have some scary moments when taxi drivers did not seem to know how to get us back to our hotel, and even dropped us in the wrong place.


This has been a unique experience for the SPO, not just for the music-making – which was of course the point of the tour – but also for the friendship and close teamwork between us all. Who could have imagined that we, the Slaithwaite Philharmonic, would go on such an adventure, travelling many thousands of miles and entertaining thousands of appreciative people along the way, beginning in the amazing Shanghai Symphony Hall! We hope that all the guest players – as well as the soloists, Artem and Terry – will return to work with us again. They all fitted in so well and it couldn’t have happened without them. I, for one, will miss everyone with whom I have shared these special days and I shall forever hold this experience in my heart.