From concert halls to music camps, the Eastman Saxophone Project (ESP), directed by Professor Chien-Kwan Lin, is bringing its innovative programing and versatile performances to a variety of audiences in China this summer, during a concert tour that will last from July 13 through July 21. We asked ESP members Myles Boothroyd and Erik Elmgren to blog about their experiences; here is Myles’s report on the group’s appearance, and adventures, in Beijing.
By Myles Boothroyd
The next leg of our journey took us to Beijing, where we performed with the Shandong University Saxophone Ensemble between excursions to several of China’s most famous landmarks. No trip to this country would be thorough without visiting the Great Wall, where we spent our Friday afternoon ascending oversized steps and peering down over the sprawling city. Climbing the Wall is both exhilarating and humbling; it can be daunting to stare up at endless stairs that appear roller-coaster steep. Many of the stone steps were higher than our knees, and trekking from one landing to the next was quite a workout!
There was a constant stream of visitors pausing here and there to take in the view or quickly slipping through an open gap to hurry past a slow-moving climber. Admittedly, my fear of heights was put to the test, and it took some extra courage to make it past the first couple of landings. The journey, of course, was well worth it. Beyond me, other members of ESP climbed ever higher, reaching the “top”—a local high point—before making the steep journey down, legs wobbling by the end of the descent.
Those steps were the first of many we climbed in Beijing (I suspect our collective tally must be in the thousands, by now), and Gabe Piqué asserts — only half-jokingly — that we’ve now acquired a perpetual fear of stairs. In the Forbidden City — our destination the following morning — we trekked to new heights between the stone walls of this imperial palace. White layered staircases lead to bright red temples where you can peer in at emperors’ thrones and admire the multicolored, hand-drawn artwork that adorns the rafters. We even caught a glimpse of 400-year-old pine trees in the Imperial Garden, just one of many fascinating looks into the rich history of the Chinese capital.
That night, ESP performed with the Shandong University of the Arts Saxophone Ensemble. As ever, we were graciously received and warmly ushered into our green room where we had a chance to meet twenty new saxophone friends. They joined us for the last two works on our concert program — memorized, in true ESP fashion — and they will soon accompany our train journey to Jinan. It is an invigorating experience to perform with other artists when the only language we share is music. After the concert, we felt like celebrities once more, as members from the audience queued up to purchase CDs, collect autographs, and take photos. How rewarding it is to realize that a single performance, signed album, or quick photo can be deeply cherished by many of the young students attending these events.
Of course, just as everyone’s favorite part of a recital is the reception that follows, ESP loves to eat. We happened upon a Chinese “barbecue” restaurant just a few blocks from our hotel, where one can order any number of items grilled on wooden skewers. We took turns sampling chicken wings, lamb, beef stomach, chicken knuckles, and cow … kidney? By that point, I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely sure what I was eating, but you know what they say: “When in China….” To be fair, our culinary adventures have also taken us to KFC and McDonald’s more than once on this trip. The ketchup tastes a bit different, but after hearing stories about grilled silkworms (one of our members was brave enough to try), a hamburger begins to sound rather appealing. The journey continues.