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  The Magazine / June-July Cover Story

Dalian's Hidden Treasure

Sometimes Dalian feels less like a city and more like a magician's hat. While it appears quite unsuspecting on the surface, it is simply extraordinary what you can find hidden in its depths. That is what makes life here so exciting. Cultural gems are not presented to you on a silver platter "that would be far too decadent". No, often you have to search for them. You have to venture out and go on your personal treasure hunt.

By Su Hua and Timothy Seekings

Sometimes Dalian feels less like a city and more like a magician’s hat. While it appears quite unsuspecting on the surface, it is simply extraordinary what you can find hidden in its depths. That is what makes life here so exciting. Cultural gems are not presented to you on a silver platter – that would be far too decadent – no, often you have to search for them. You have to venture out and go on your personal treasure hunt.

One such treasure can be heard rehearsing every Monday evening in the Children’s Palace on Wuwu Lu. On other occasions it performs in front of large audiences and to generous applause. It is called the Dalian International Music Club Orchestra and is a fabulous collective of diverse musicians, all united by the joy of playing music and performing together.

Luckily, new Focus on Dalian General Manager John Hunter used to play violin in the orchestra a few years ago and was even its conductor for 2 years. He invited us to pay a visit to one of the weekly rehearsals in the Zhong Shan Children’s Palace to find out more.

The rehearsal had already begun and the music reached our ears as we were approaching the building. Inside the rehearsal room the walls are adorned with photographs documenting the orchestra’s 15 years of history - captured moments of glory and success: Good times!

There were already so many musicians playing that it was hard to count them, between 30 and 40; amongst them, members from Russia, France, Japan, America, Germany and China. On the right side there is a row of impressive double basses and, moving in a crescent around the conductor, follow cellos, violas and finally violins, representing the vocal range from Bass over Tenor and Alto to Soprano. At the rear end and slightly elevated there is the wind section and in the corner, timpanis, large kettle drums, and other percussion instruments.

There is not really that much room to move around with all the people ,music stands, chairs and instruments, but still, as the rehearsal got under way, more people started coming in and finding to their places. In the meantime, the rehearsal continued casually, seemingly unimpressed by this commotion.

Currently, the orchestra’s manager is Mr Xin Liang, who has shoulder-long grey hair and a very clear way of talking. He told us that since the 1970s, when he started to play the cello, he has never stopped once. “The cello is my love. I love the cello, and I love my friends who love the cello”, said Mr. Xin, smiling. “Music reflects the culture of a city and influences people’s lives. And running a team like this orchestra requires great personal Character, a caring heart for everyone and, of course, a true love for music.” He invested a lot, he said, but what he gained is so much more.

This passion for music and its almost magical power is shared by Chen Liang, also a cellist. “I’m not a professional musician”, he told us, “but I love music. I used to feel that music is like a cosmic spirit when listening to live music in concert. All my senses were stimulated and my rational and logical thinking suspended, so when I was listening to the New World Symphony of Dovrak, I moved me to tears and when I listened to The Four Seasons of Vivaldi, I burst out into laughter. Every time I see musicians playing on stage, I see how their movements are fused together with the music and how the music flows out of their bodies.

This deep correspondence of movement and music is especially important for the conductor, as John explains. It is through the conductor’s movements and gestures that the music really comes alive. While every musician has to concentrate on their part and only sees their notes, the conductor has to coordinate the over-all expression. His focus is on the entire composition. In order to elicit this from the orchestra in all its colorful details and nuances, he transposes the emotions and dynamics to the respective players by means of his movements and gestures – a task that requires great skill.

Double bass player and vice manager of the Tokyo branch of the orchestra, Ms Gukou, coordinates the Japanese members of the group. She came to Dalian in 2003 and has since then contributed a lot to the communication between China’s and Japan's music. She explained how the orchestra was set up in 1995 by a Shenyang-born Japanese business man and music-lover.

Since then it has gathered more than a hundred members from many different countries. From Japan alone, there are forty to fifty musicians who come to Dalian every year for the main performances. All of the members are gifted musicians with great skills and a fantastic team spirit. As it is an entirely voluntary and unpaid position to be part of the orchestra, it is not money that enables it to continue and flourish, but everybody’s love for music and their caring for the group. Unsurprisingly, many deep and lasting friendships have been forged between the members, bridging different nationalities and ages.

Music is not just entertainment. It has real power and the capacity for sustainable social transformation. As John puts it, “it is a universal language; it brings people together and it can connect them on a deep and spiritual level.”

Take for example the West-Eastern Divan, a Spain-based youth orchestra that was founded in 1999 by Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim. It consists of musicians from the Middle East and is a vehicle to facilitate a coming together of Israelis and Palestinians. According to Barenboim it was conceived as a project against ignorance and now serves as a platform where two sides can disagree while not resorting to violence.

Well, fortunately here in Dalian, there is no violence to address, and the only disagreement of the musicians might be which music is more fun to play: traditional classics like Bach or Vivaldi, modern classics such as Benjamin Britten, Chinese classics or something completely different - when we were leaving, the orchestra rehearsed the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean!

It is no wonder then that because of the diversity of musicians, the orchestra finds it easy to play for equally diverse audiences. They have played almost a hundred concerts and will certainly continue to play.

By the way, Mr Xin and all the others are always happy to see new faces. Wind players and percussionists are apparently amongst the hardest to find, but if you play any type of orchestral instrument and are looking for friends and an exciting challenge, pick a Monday evening and pay a visit to the fabulous Dalian International Music Club Orchestra.

For information and upcoming events please contact John Hunter at the Focus on Dalian office: 8252-0113.