Mission: To seek and share inspiration


Asia or Bust

Meghan Berneking



While the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Pops has been touring across the country and around the world for over a century, and has performed in New York and Florida in recent years, it has not undertaken an international tour since Music Director Laureate Paavo Järvi led the CSO to Japan in 2009. The international hiatus is just one of the reasons why the Orchestra’s tour to Asia this March is being met with such excitement and anticipation from musicians and audiences alike.

The Orchestra will perform as both the CSO and Pops during the two-week trek, under the direction of CSO Music Director Louis Langrée and Pops Conductor John Morris Russell, the first international tour with this Orchestra for both conductors.

“I’m so proud to conduct the CSO in some of the most prestigious venues in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai,” said Mr. Langrée. “To be invited to serve as Cincinnati’s ambassador on the other side of the world is a true honor.”

“As this is my first international tour as Conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, I couldn’t be more excited,” said Mr. Russell. “It’s an honor to represent both our nation and our beloved Queen City, and to do our part to bridge cultural and political divides through the passionate performance of great music. Some of our most fervent fans live on the other side of the earth, who know us through our numerous recordings; now, with our live concert experiences, we hope to create a new generation of Pops fanatics in China and Taiwan.”

The tour begins on March 17 with the CSO performing as part of the prestigious Hong Kong Arts Festival at the HK Cultural Centre Music Hall and continues on March 19 with a performance at Beijing’s Poly Theatre and March 22 with a performance at Shanghai’s Oriental Art Center. (The Orchestra last performed in China’s capital city Beijing as the Cincinnati Pops for the Summer Olympics in 2008 and previously toured China as the Pops in 2005.) The Orchestra performs as the Cincinnati Pops at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center on March 23, and then heads to Taiwan for two additional concerts as the Cincinnati Pops on March 25 at the Tainan Municipal Cultural Center and March 26 at the National Concert Hall in Taipei.

The CSO’s tour repertoire appropriately highlights both American and French composers as a nod to the Orchestra’s and Mr. Langrée’s roots, with Ives’ iconic The Unanswered Question, Saint-Saëns’ transcendent Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”), Gershwin’s beloved Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris, and Ravel’s sublime Daphnis et Chloé and “Mother Goose” Suite all appearing on the programs. Pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk, who has amazed audiences with the CSO in Cincinnati as well as during its performance at Lincoln Center in January 2016, will join the CSO on tour, bringing his thoughtful interpretive skill and dazzling technique to Rhapsody in Blue.

“These are works that really highlight the vibrant colors that this Orchestra produces,” added Mr. Langrée. “We’re also so thrilled to be performing with Alexander Gavrylyuk. Our performances with him in Cincinnati and at Lincoln Center have been unforgettable— he is an inspiring, generous collaborator and performer and brings out the best in all of us on stage.”

The Pops program brings the best scores from Hollywood action and adventure blockbusters for three swashbuckling concerts. Themes from such iconic films as The Magnificent Seven, Star Trek, Mission Impossible and Star Wars often thrill and delight audiences at home in Cincinnati and were selected for this tour program precisely for their international appeal.

“Our program shows off the virtuosity and power of the Pops at its finest. The works we’ve selected are among our most popular, many of which have been recorded and enjoyed around the world. The program will highlight our distinctive and thrilling ‘Cincinnati sound’ with works representing the stylistic and emotional breadth of all we do,” said Mr. Russell.

While going on tour is both exciting and an essential way the Orchestra fulfills its mission to seek and share inspiration, such an undertaking requires an immense amount of precise planning behind the scenes to ensure all goes smoothly. The mantra for staff and crew responsible for such planning? Expect the unexpected. “When traveling with 125+ people and over three million dollars in instruments and equipment, organizing hundreds of small details regarding air travel, cargo planes, trucks, buses, hotels, staying healthy, etc., the old adage holds true—if something can go wrong, it will,” said Heather Stengle, the Orchestra’s Director of Operations.

Members of the stage crew take very seriously their responsibility to make each venue as comfortable as possible for the musicians executing the tiniest details. “This includes strategic placement of instrument trunks in close proximity to the stage, wardrobe trunks in close proximity to the dressing rooms, focusing lights on stage just so and making sure the halls are at the proper temperature,” said Technical Director Ralph LaRocco. One inevitable challenge for tours is the language barrier. With just one interpreter for the whole stage crew, the crew will likely rely heavily on sign language and hand signals.

Such interactions though, while seemingly insignificant, are exactly what makes the Orchestra’s touring activity so important. As Cincinnati’s ambassador, the musicians, staff and crew of the CSO and Pops will be representing the Queen City and engaging in cultural exchanges both in and out of the concert hall. The resulting dialogue—with the international language of music as its foundation—sows seeds for peace and understanding that only reveal the fullness of their fruits in time.

Both 2017 CSO international tours are made possible by Tom and Dee Stegman and the estate of Chuck Yeiser, and the major underwriter for the Pops appearances in Asia is Edyth B. Lindner. These major underwriters are also joined by the following supporters of the Asia tour: Susan Friedlander; Tom Garber and Family; Flo and Ron Koetters; The Harold C. Schott Foundation/Francie and Tom Hiltz, Trustees; Western Pacific Holdings.