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In China, he builds bridges with music

Yu Long, conductor of the China Philharmonic Orchestra, reaches across an old cultural divide.

Diplomat: Yu Long, conductor of China Philharmonic Orchestra, played this month for Pope Benedict XVI.

courtesy of beijing music festival arts foundation

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The New York Philharmonic may have played Pyongyang, but they're not the only ones using the tip of the orchestra to break diplomatic ice. On May 7, Conductor Yu Long and the China Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) traveled to Vatican City to play a special concert for Pope Benedict XVI, signaling a thaw in the frosty relations that have prevailed since the Holy See broke relations with China in 1951, two years after the Communist takeover.

Maestro Yu, founder of the CPO and the Beijing Music Festival (BMF) and essentially a one-man epicenter of China's classical music scene, has long blurred the line between politics and religion. For Mozart's 250th birthday in 2006, Yu organized the first public concert in a Chinese cathedral; in the same venue a year later, he played Mozart's "Requiem," arguably the most religious work ever written. Yu is quick to deny any political obstacles, but observers applauded the nod toward the "spiritual side" of music.

Cynics may say this tour is an attempt to deflect recent worldwide protests against China and assuage Chinese nationalism. While both VatiĀ­can and Chinese authorities refuse to comment on the scheduling specifics, Yu feels the event speaks for itself. He spoke to the Monitor about the tour and what it means. Some excerpts:

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