The LSO is welcomed to Beijing, and the next leg of its Far East tour, in the form of a fantastic banquet at the China Club, generously hosted by David Tang. The whole orchestra along with our sponsors in China, Rolls-Royce, turn out looking very smart, after a bit of R&R from the flight. We enter the China Club through a series of courtyards and wooden gates, lit by red paper lanterns. The reception is really classy, and we go into the dining area for the food, which is as tasty as it looks, and served in small dishes which they change for each course. I’m glad not to be doing the washing up. Amazing hospitality, and superb food, as I said, and a speech from Kathryn McDowell which brings the evening to an end.
The next day I’m up early to visit the Great Wall of China. The last time the Orchestra came to Beijing there was a trip to the Wall organised, which, sadly, I missed. I couldn’t get up that morning, as I remember, and felt suitably and appropriately sheepish about it, seeing that almost the entire orchestra had made it, and had spectacular photos to show for it. Of course, I then had the embarassing task of having to explain to my folks back home of the squandered opportunity. So this is my chance to make amends!
There are two separate trips to the Great Wall planned for today, one of which starts off considerably earlier than the other. This involves a bike ride and a bit of a hike, so not wishing to miss out, I opt for it, and at 7.30am find myself in a mini bus, bereft of the hamper of power bars, hiking shoes and other suggested necessities indicated on the sheet of paper I am handed by Leo, who is our tour guide for the day. Never mind. I’ve got my IXUS camera, and I’m with friends, including Tom Goodman and Laurent, which is a good thing, because I’ve come out without my money again….
An hour and a half later, we pull into a lay-by, and get on bikes, assembling for the first of many group photos taken throughout the day. These get a bit silly later on, with our tour guide at one point having about seven cameras dangling from his arm, so that then everyone can go home and email the same picture to each other!
Riding a bike is fun. It’s really true that you never forget, but the question is, do you wear a helmet? I begrudgingly try to fit one on, but it pinches on my stubble (I haven’t shaved this morning), and that hurts, so I decide against it in the end. It’s about 20 kilometres to the site where we are joining the wall, and there’s a fair bit of struggling uphill, but after that, and for the majority of the journey, we’re flying with the wind in our faces. We pass through a couple of tiny villages on the way, where Chinese people with gnarled hands and faces look on. Sometimes smiling, other times looking either vaguely bewildered at our presence, or weary of it, I can’t tell really, they don’t mind us taking their photos. At least I hope they don’t. I don’t feel too bad about it, however when we arrive at a roadside cafe, for a very nice meal organised as part of the day trip, and are hounded by several locals desperate to sell us guide books and souvenirs. And also what look like sticks of dynamite, in racks of ten or twenty. Like elongated milk bottle holders. I’m confused by this, until by their persistence they manage to flog one to Tom for a few washers, and all is explosively apparent. As we walk across the top of a dam to explore the other side, where a part of the Great Wall begins, they let them off from their side. They explode what I assume to be a reasonably safe distance above our heads, although we all duck suddenly, and have the remains of the cardboard tubes fall down around us! What a bizarre thing to sell at the roadside to tourists. They also sell boxes of firecrackers, and Laurent and Rinat think that might be a laugh, so they buy a few cartons each and start chucking them about. It is funny, I have to say.
We go back to the cafe for lunch, which is rather like a roadside version of the China Club meal, in that they bring dish after dish of delicious freshly prepared vegetables, meat and a really good fish done in cumin. But unlike last night we keep our plates beween courses!
The hike along the Great Wall is extraordinary. Incredibly steep in places, the view changes at every turn, and becomes more incredible the higher we get. The wall is restored by locals who in times past had taken stones from the remains in order to build their houses, we are told. So there is a mixture of quite new looking stone and mortar and much older crumbling stairways and arches, punctuated along the way by the watchtowers at which the many sentries would have sat in order to guard the border, to keep the Mongols out. The views are stunning, despite there being a fair bit of haze and mist, or perhaps it is smog from the city. The pictures speak for themselves.
The bus picks us up, and we get back to the hotel in Beijing with enough time to shower and take a quick nap before the concert. My legs are tired, but it’s been a thrilling day. Thanks to Jez for organising the trip.Any sense that the Chinese audience is a bit lethargic at the beginning of the concert is quickly dispelled by their response to the Beethoven violin concerto, again played by Zimmermann with finesse and a beauty of tone which has us smiling throughout. He plays an encore by Pagannini that is spellbinding. The second half is the Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz, which certainly doesn’t seem to suffer any side effects from over half the orchestra’s excursions during the day, and is warmly and enthusiastically received by the Beijing audience.