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United by music

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2018-04-28 09:27

Annual concert of the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Xu Zhong in 2017. [Photo provided to China Daily] 

As professional orchestras spring up like mushrooms around China, musicians from overseas are making their way to the country to make the most of new opportunities

Emma Jane Whitney's debut with the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra a couple of years ago was far from the fanfare performance she might have imagined beforehand. Instead it was more akin to being thrown under a cold shower when you are half awake.

An 11-hour flight that was supposed to deliver the British French horn player to the Chinese city in plenty of time for her first rehearsal with the orchestra turned into a 30-hour odyssey because of a flight delay, and when she finally arrived in Suzhou she was exhausted.

"I had not slept for nearly two days," Whitney says.

As she was whisked straight from the airport to the concert hall for that first rehearsal, the scenery of this new world flashed past her dazed eyes.

"I've never been so tired and overwhelmed in my life," she says.

However, after reaching the concert hall, tired but also excited, and meeting those she would be playing with, it dawned on her that in this alien environment she would be in good company.

For the orchestra's 80 musicians represent 17 countries and regions, including China, Britain, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

"There are so many different personalities and backgrounds and yet we are all united by the same music," Whitney says.

Even before that hectic arrival in the city, Whitney's introduction to the orchestra had had something of a whirlwind feel to it.

Several months earlier, she had received an email from a fellow British musician, Mark Hampson, a bass trombonist, who helped set up the orchestra and was looking for French horn players.

She had never considered working outside England before, she says, but, intrigued by the idea of playing with a brand-new orchestra on the other side of the world - in a city she had never heard of - Whitney decided to put in an application.

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