The Chinese Connection: Community Outreach Wins New Friends for the BSO

by Jonathan Jensen



Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Baltimore Symphony are two major local institutions that have had little direct contact – until a special concert in May that was planned and performed by several of our musicians.

The Chinese Association for Medical Professionals was formed by several Chinese doctors at Hopkins. Its annual convention attracts doctors who come all the way from China to bond with their compatriots in Baltimore. By chance the wife of CAMP’s president Guangshuo Zhu is a friend of our principal clarinetist’s wife. Yao Guang Zhai, now in his first season at the BSO, invited the Zhu family to one of our Nutcracker performances in December. Later Mr. Zhu invited Yao to a Chinese New Year event at Hopkins at which Chinese embassy personnel were present, and Yao was recognized as an honored guest. Not long afterwards, Mr. Zhu floated the idea of a special concert for members of CAMP, and Yao accepted at once. All five Chinese members of the BSO volunteered their services, and on May 14 the long-awaited concert took place.

Yao was joined by clarinetist Lin Ma, bassoonist Fei Xie, violinist Qing Li and cellist Bo Li, who each played a solo accompanied by pianist Choo Choo Hu. A host from the Washington, D.C. bureau of China Central Television interviewed each musician before he or she performed.

Composer Dr. Xinyan Li, whom Yao had met at the Aspen Festival, composed a grand finale for all five musicians. Her piece was based on “Song of Sunrise”, a well-known melody inspired by the beauty of a mountain sunrise. Dr. Li talked about her piece and had the audience sing the melody before the quintet performed it.

After the concert the host invited the audience to participate in a Q & A session with the musicians. Someone wanted to know how to help children learn music. Yao was asked about his tendency to smile while he played. He said, “If we don’t enjoy playing, the audience won’t enjoy listening.” A doctor asked if it was rare for Chinese traditional music to be played on Western instruments. (The short answer: yes!) BSO season brochures were passed out before the audience left the hall.

Yao was very pleased at the response to this concert which he helped bring about. He says that while many Chinese professionals have some interest in classical music they don’t often attend orchestral concerts and know little about the BSO. This informal lecture/performance helped demystify the concert experience for them and whet their appetite to hear more. Yao is still hearing from friends about how much they enjoyed the concert and what they learned from it. We salute Yao, Lin, Fei, Qing and Bo for putting their time and talent to such good use. It’s this kind of personal outreach that will help more people discover the treasure that is the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.