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NEXUS WORLD TOUR – 1984 – A DIARY, Part 3. Mao suites, 1st Beijing Concert,

28 Oct

After the dental appointment.

On my trip to the Embassy I question Kwang Chao, our translator, about Mao suits.  She explains that as a form of protest to feudalism, Dr. Sun Yat-sen adopted the Western suit rather than the traditional gown. Mao adopted this in his own design and many men still wear this. At one point in the Cultural Revolution only three colors were allowed: Army green, black and gray. Now the young people consider these men conservative and have adopted Western dress as a form of protest. Chao explains that it is young women who have started wearing the most colorful clothes.  She says that men do not care about their appearance. There is no significance to grey or black in terms of rank. After the hospital Guy explains that the average wage in China is about 45-50 yuan a month. The political leaders make 500 yuan per month but they get many perks.

The forbidden city is so called because the common people in the days of the emperors were not allowed on the grounds. Today the Chinese leaders live here in compounds which are off limits to Chinese citizens.
I casually asked Guy (Guy St. Jacques, Canadian Embassy)  why the Chinese don’t grow grass in the city. Years ago the government had all the grass destroyed in the war against insects. Now they are planting trees and grass as quickly as they can because the city is a dust bowl in the winter. The Gobi desert is about 500 miles north and when the winter winds come, huge dust storms blow in and added to the exposed earth in the city,  great clouds of dust inundate Beijing.

Guy says  that the greatest problem for China is to feed itself. I am reminded of the chicken crisis in Canada. The growers wanted to change the marketing boards restrictions so they can produce enough chickens for McDonald’s chicken McNuggets.

I arrived a little late for our rehearsal but things feel good –  the Cage “Third Construction” comes right back – the Rags float along. “Raintree” is a little strange because of the great resonance in the hall.

We have some problems with getting the stagehands to give us enough light but interestingly enough the lights come on full when we began to rehearse the Chinese music we brought. It does not appear to us that the event is accidental. My impression is that they have no idea what we are doing and only when we play something they recognize as music do they respond. (Terrible sentence construction but this is Stream of consciousness.) After the concert we tell Guy to get firm – kick ass and let them know we want quiet and lights when we are working. He accepts the responsibility.

The concert goes well for us. I have the feeling that our audience is interested in our dress and our instruments but are not relating emotionally to most pieces – very quiet for Takemitsu – short desultory applause. We were told to expect noisy audiences–ours is quiet. Very enthusiastic response to John Cage, the strongest of the evening. Things get interestinger and interestinger.  Not much enthusiasm for the Chinese piece. Um…we expected quite a bit of pleasure from that one.

The African charts go well. We all feel good and the concert is cooking -rather the performances are. Good response for the Rags. John tries to say something in Chinese at the end and has a blank. He opens his arms and looks upward in supplication and brings the house down. The Chinese girl who has been introducing the pieces–even though the audience have programs–comes out to the rescue just as John remembers. He says his sentence and to warm applause and the girl announces our encore. “Xylophonia” is not received with any more enthusiasm and we bow. A huge bouquet of flowers is brought out by 2 girls and the Canadian and Chinese officials, come on stage to congratulate us and have a photographic session. Only 50 or 60 of the audience stay in the hall as the officials come on stage. For the photos I stand between “Tom Monohan” and “the elf “with a great smile who sat next to Russ at the banquet. (Note-Tom Monohan, 1937-94, was for many years the principal contra bassist with the Toronto Symphony. He was very over weight, a terrific musician, teacher and good friend. The Chinese official reminded me in some ways of Tom.)

Our feeling is that the audience got off on what we were doing. We wonder if we are the 1st people to play Cage and Takemitsu in China. If this is indeed the 1st performance of any new music. We will get reviews but I wonder if we will ever know the significance of their responses. Are Chinese audiences subdued, normally, when confronted with totally new musical experiences? To what kind of music would they respond? I felt good–very good, and am not myself convinced, but the concert had some ambiguous moments. Our hosts from the banquet seemed generally very pleased. As we stood for pictures “the elf” was beaming and took my hand for a moment of genuine affection, respect and appreciation–”Monohan” I discovered, was well into his 70s seemed very moved and went out of his way to congratulate me more than once.

The bouquet was ours. We loaded it on the bus and presented it to the lobby of our hotel.  Dinner was waiting and our stage manager, publicist and translator from the arts Bureau presented us with Chinese linen tablecloths and napkins. I had my 1st full nights sleep since leaving Toronto.

In one hour – 9 AM –  we leave for the hall to rehearse for tonight’s concert. Tonight we will improvise for them and play Bruce’s “Clos de Vougeot”. The hall is very good–that’s a plus for Bruce’s piece–but I’m really concerned. In the West “Clos de Vougeot” is a difficult piece for audiences–very balanced but quiet generally and very strange structurally, with many silences. Western audiences have applauded after some of the sections and that tends to break the mood. Tonight, I think, we’ll have to work.

Postscript: a fellow traveler brought 2 large boxes of chocolates from Toronto. After lunch we had a binge. Chocolate never tasted so good.

 

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