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New York Philharmonic, Pushing Cultural Diplomacy, Plans Asia Tour

The New York Philharmonic, saying it hoped to use culture to help ease political tensions, announced plans on Thursday for a summer tour in Asia, including stops in Hong Kong and Taiwan and a visit to mainland China by a small group of musicians.

The tour will be the Philharmonic’s first visit to Asia since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when many countries in the region shut their borders. It comes amid rising tensions between the United States and China and concerns about the possibility of a crisis over Taiwan.

Gary Ginstling, the Philharmonic’s incoming president and chief executive, said the orchestra hoped to show that music could help strengthen ties between the United States and Asian countries.

“At a time when communication and trust are on the decline, our firm belief is that cultural diplomacy is more important than ever,” he said. “Showing that we can span borders and bring people closer through music is at the heart of our mission.”

After a hiatus during the pandemic, American and European ensembles have in recent months explored returning to Asia, a booming market for classical music before the pandemic.

The Philadelphia Orchestra, the first American ensemble to perform in Communist-led China, is planning to send a delegation of 12 musicians to Beijing and Shanghai this fall. (Last year, the orchestra canceled a tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its visit to the country in 1973, worried that China’s then-strict coronavirus protocols would create logistical challenges.)

The Cleveland Orchestra is planning an Asia tour in 2025 that could include a visit to China, as well as Japan and South Korea. The Boston Symphony Orchestra visited Japan last year, the ensemble’s first overseas tour in four years.

The New York Philharmonic’s Asia tour will include performances in late June and early July at the Hong Kong Cultural Center as well as performing arts centers in Taipei and Kaohsiung, a city in southern Taiwan. The orchestra will perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony and Brahms’s Violin Concerto, featuring the violinist Hilary Hahn.

Hong Kong is familiar terrain for the Philharmonic’s music director, Jaap van Zweden, who also leads the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

“I look forward to sharing the work of my New York musical family with audiences in both Taiwan and Hong Kong,” van Zweden said in a statement.

The pandemic forced the Philharmonic to cancel three previously scheduled trips to China, where it has had a partnership with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra since 2014. Following the visit to Hong Kong in July, a delegation of nine Philharmonic players will go to Shanghai for six days, where they will lead chamber music concerts and teach classes.

The Philharmonic is also working to strengthen ties with Taiwanese cultural groups; on Friday, it will present a concert at David Geffen Hall by the Taiwan Philharmonic.

Ginstling said the orchestra was considering a full tour in mainland China in the summer of 2024.

“It’s too early to commit to that,” he said. “But we’ve certainly made it clear to our friends in Shanghai that when the circumstances warrant and enable it, we will resume our visits with the full orchestra.”

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