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Grand Forks Symphony invited to present concert tour in China

Maestro Alejandro Drago conducts the Greater Grand Forks Symphony as guest artist, Frank Su Huang, performs a cello solo. during the February concert in Grand Forks. 1 / 2
Alejandro Drago (left), musical director of the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra, with guest artist, Frank Su Huang, who performed as solo cellist at the symphony's February concert celebrating the Chinese New Year in February. 2 / 2

The Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra has accepted an invitation to perform in a seven-city, 12-day concert tour in China in December.

The GGFSO was invited by leaders of the Hong Kong International Music Festival (HKMIF) organization after the symphony’s February concert, celebrating the Chinese New Year. The concert featured Qiao Dan, the HKMIF 2018 Champion Erhu Player, and Frank Su Huang, a cellist juror for the HKMIF.

The successful production of that concert at the Chester Fritz Auditorium -- videos of which were sent to the organization -- prompted the HKMIF to invite the orchestra to perform in China, said Alejandro Drago, the symphony’s music director.

The concert tour begins Dec. 27 in Shanghai.

The invitation “means a lot of course, but not just for the orchestra; it means a lot for the city of Grand Forks and the state of North Dakota,” he said.

“To my knowledge, this would be the first North Dakota orchestra to tour internationally -- and nonetheless, to China, a country with which we have a very complex, but very close, relationship,” he said, citing the state’s long-term agricultural trading ties with China.

The Grand Forks entourage, about 55 musicians and five staff members, would arrive in Shanghai and leave from Hong Kong, said Drago, conductor of the orchestra and director of the strings program in the UND music department.

The per-person cost is expected to be about $2,500, depending on the airfare, which is yet to be determined, he said.

The HKMIF and the Chinese government are covering half of the cost of the tour for the musicians, excluding airfare, he said.

The cost of the entire project is about $500,000, including large instrument rentals, concert hall venues, event magazine publishing, production crew, part of the lodging, insurance, and a documentary film, Drago said.

During the tour, the 90-minute concert program will integrate classic Western music with popular Chinese instrumental and vocal music, some of which will be co-performed with HKIMF competition winners.

Performances will be presented in Shanghai, Lanzhou, Changsha, Zhuzhou, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

The concert tour is intended to recognize the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States, according to an invitation letter from HKIMF representatives.

“So they see us as a legitimate musical organization, as an orchestra the Chinese people would like to hear, and as an organization that is working actively to foster cultural cooperation with China,” Drago said.

“This is nothing less than a statewide opportunity to show a side of North Dakota that, unfortunately, not everybody may be aware of,” Drago said. “That we have rich educational and cultural institutions, a rich cultural life, capable musicians and capable teachers, and that people from around the world come here to study (music).”

The invitation, which was made specifically to the Grand Forks symphony, one of the oldest in the country, shows that the state “is exporting something else, other than corn or oil,” Drago said. “We’re exporting an entire cultural product.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase ourselves in a totally different light,” he said. “It’s something that not only the people of Grand Forks should be proud of -- or even merely the members of the orchestra -- but something that should be embraced by the entire state as one of the strongest possibilities for promotion and showcase of the state and its many good things.”