Eastman Philharmonia is one of the orchestras in the music school at the University of Rochester in New York. They embarked on a tour in China, but the Chinese government refused to issue visas for student musicians who are South Korean.

The tour is continuing without them.

The orchestra made the shocking decision to exclude the South Korean students.

WHAM News reports:

Politics invades Eastman Philharmonia tour to China; South Korean musicians unwelcome

In the Hatch Recital Hall at the Eastman School of Music, Anna Gasanovia coaxes beautiful music on her viola.

“Music reaches the soul and touches the soul,” Gasanovia said during a break.

Then Sophie Volpe picks up her trombone. She describes her music like this: “It’s not something that looks to divide or put people into different categories. It’s something that brings people together.”

They are two of the 80 members of the Eastman Philharmonia. Starting in December, the group will tour eight cities in China over 12 days – taking a cultural message and considerable talent directly to the Chinese people.

“Music exists to express something we can’t express in any other way,” said Jamal Rossi, Dean of the Eastman School of Music. “We have a chance to do this with a culture that I know embraces and loves classical music.”

Eastman School ensembles regularly tour internationally. Yet it’s been 30 years since a tour has been undertaken by a group of musicians of this size.

After auditions and months of practices, the ensemble learned three of the musicians are not welcome. The reason? They are South Korean.

Since 2016, China has blocked South Korean artists from performing.

It’s ironic that this is happening shortly after weeks of news stories about the NBA bowing to the interests of the Chinese government. It is just as outrageous.

Joseph Galamba of the Violinist blog puts it in perspective:

Eastman to Remove Koreans from Top Orchestra For China Tour

China refused to issue visas for Korean students, forcing Eastman to either remove them or cancel their tour. Eastman has shockingly chosen to go with the former.

Even more stunning, the students in the orchestra themselves voted overwhelmingly to go ahead with the tour by leaving their peers behind. Under such tremendous pressure from their fellow students and school administrators, the Korean students could never have voiced any objections that they may have had…

By bowing to Chinese demands and enabling them to dictate exclusion on the basis of nationality in their orchestra, the students and administrators of Eastman have shown a remarkable lack of character and have put a black mark on the reputation of classical music when we can ill afford it, as the corruption and misconduct at institutions such as the Cleveland Symphony and Metropolitan Opera is fresh in the public mind.

The music school dean has released a statement. Here’s an excerpt, via Slipped Disc:

Dear Members of the Eastman Community,

I am writing to you regarding the tour of the Eastman Philharmonia to China. Earlier this week, I sent messages to the student members of the Philharmonia and the Eastman faculty regarding my decision to continue the upcoming tour, following news that three South Korean members of the Philharmonia would not be able to obtain required work visas in China because of a diplomatic matter between those two countries. Instead of paraphrasing that information, I believe it is very important for all members of our community—students, staff, faculty, alumni, and our Eastman community at-large—to understand the various factors that were considered and the efforts that were made prior to making this decision. To that end, I have attached both messages so you will know how and why the decision was reached to continue the tour…

This was a difficult decision because there exist valid positive and negative elements related to cancelling or proceeding with the tour. While I appreciate that opinions may vary about this decision, I desire for our Eastman community to understand the complexity of the matter before drawing each person’s own conclusion.

One has to wonder how this would have played out if China wanted to exclude students from other groups. Would the tour still be on if black or gay students were refused?

Featured image via YouTube.

 
 
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