In 1973, the Philadelphia Orchestra boarded a Pan Am 707 plane in Philadelphia for a once-in-a-lifetime journey: a multi-city tour of Maoist China, months after Nixon’s history-making visit. There was drama immediately after they landed in Shanghai. Chinese officials asked for a last-minute change to the program: Beethoven’s Sixth. After protests that the Orchestra didn’t bring scores with them, officials returned with copies haphazardly sourced from across the country, with different notations and different notes, forcing the orchestra to make do.
That’s just one of the stories recounted in Jennifer Lin’s book, Beethoven in Beijing: Stories from the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Historic Journey to China. The book stems from the work Lin did in putting together a documentary film on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s trip; with so much left on the cutting room floor, she decided to turn it into an oral history.
Jennifer Lin is an award-winning journalist, author, and documentary filmmaker. She produced and codirected the feature-length documentary, Beethoven in Beijing, which premiered on PBS’s Great Performances in 2021. For 31 years, she worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer as a reporter, including posts as a foreign correspondent in China, a financial correspondent on Wall Street, and a national correspondent in Washington, DC. She is the author of Shanghai Faithful: Betrayal and Forgiveness in a Chinese Christian Family (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017), and coauthor of Sole Sisters: Stories of Women and Running (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2006). Her current documentary project is Beyond Yellowface about two New York City dancers trying to rid ballet of offensive Asian stereotypes.
In this interview, Jennifer and I talk about the opening of China, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and how that 1973 visit still resonates today.