4 November 2019
Timothy Summers

Timothy Summers



I didn’t start this China tour on the right foot.

The day after arrival in Beijing, I began to feel the effects of a stomach bug. Normally, that wouldn’t be a matter for the public record. But it did affect my impressions of what happened, so I mention it here at the outset, in the spirit of full disclosure.

To keep things brighter I’m going to write everything backwards and try not give the early part too much weight. Since I now know that everything is going to be alright in the end there’s no need for me to slow everything down before it has a chance to get started.


Zhou Tian Rhyme
Zhou Tian Reading an Anthology
Qigang Chen L’Eloignement
Du Yun A Cockroach’s Tarantella
Michel van der Aa Hysteresis

The last concert put the MCO where it needed to be: squarely in the flux and ferment of 21st century China, changing forms on-the-fly, exploring new territory, and making the most of the musical means of its members.

The previous programs had been resolutely Western Classical, with a 20th century Russian cast. This final concert was a big change, both in form and content. It was on the one hand very experimental, but it was also experimental in a way that was firmly grounded in the present place (China), the present time (now), and the present orchestra (ours).

Some of the most crucial elements of the program can’t be seen from print alone. It is of course clear from the titles and composers that we were presenting new Chinese compositions. But there was also meaning in the entire choreography, in the motion and organization of the whole set of works. The MCO works to maintain a group identity while hierarchies, priorities, personnel, and repertoire shift onstage. Sometimes there is a conductor, sometimes there isn’t; sometimes a soloist, sometimes not; sometimes a large group, sometimes a chamber group — but there is always the entity known as Mahler Chamber Orchestra on stage: a collection in motion.

What was not to be seen in the printed program is that the orchestra would be built before your eyes, forming and reforming itself as various individual musicians took on a broad range of responsibilities, beyond the bounds of their job descriptions. When they fell back to working within the orchestra, they would find a group reinforced by the breadth of their contribution.