Conductor Long Yu, Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and Sheng Virtuoso Wu Tong Tour the Gobi Desert

This September, conductor Long Yu, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and sheng virtuoso Wu Tong embarked on a four-city tour of China. The tour kicked off with the Hong Kong Philharmonic’s season opening concerts on September 9 and 10. The three then traveled to Xi’an for an open-air concert at the old city wall on September 12 and reprised the work on September 15 at Lanzhou’s Jincheng Theatre and on September 17 at Ürümqi’s People’s Grand Hall.

Maestro Long Yu provided Strings magazine with an exclusive look and commentary on the tour, which marked the first time many of these cities had ever seen Yo-Yo Ma perform in person.

September 9/Hong Kong: The first concert of the tour with the Hong Kong Philharmonic (opening concert of the 2016/17 season). Yo-Yo Ma joined the HK Phil and myself for Dvorak’s Silent Woods, and then took the stage with sheng virtuoso Wu Tong for Zhao Lin’s Duo.

Inspired by the Chinese epic Journey to the West, Duo was composed for sheng player Wu Tong and Ma. It is a partnership of two lyrical instruments with liquid, expressive sounds.

September 11 / Xi’an: Rehearsal at the historic “South Gate” at the Old City Wall in Xi’an in Central China. Xi’an marks the Silk Road’s eastern end and was home to the Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang dynasties’ ruling houses.

September 12 / Xi’an: Everyone is preparing their own Yangrou Paomo (flatbread soaked in lamb soup).


September 12: / Xi’an: Oh no! It’s raining! We hold an emergency meeting to decide whether to cancel the outdoor concert.

September 12: / Xi’an: 40 minutes later, the rain stopped and things are just perfect!


September 13 / Dunhang (Gansu Province): We’ve traveled to the edge of the Gobi Desert to the city of Dunhang. Once a frontier town on the Silk Road, the area is known for its caves, cliffs, and Buddhist statues.

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September 13 / Mingsha Shan (Singing Sands Mountain) in Dunhuang:  Mingsha Shan is about 5 miles from Dunhuang. Seen from afar, the mountain is just like a golden dragon winding its way over the horizon. At first, the sand under your feet just whispers; but the further you slide, the louder the sound until it reaches a crescendo like thunder or a drum beat. Some say that the sand is singing, while to others it is like an echo and this is how the mountain gets its name. We wore these bright orange “boots” to keep the sand out from our shoes!






September 14 & 15 / Lanzhou: A wonderful concert with the Lanzhou Symphony Orchestra. The audience was so appreciative of the playing and we were so appreciative to be here! Wu Tong performed an encore afterward and Yo-Yo and I sat and watched. As you can see, Yo-Yo didn’t want to stop listening!



Photo Courtesy of Li Cheng

September 16 / Ürümqi: We traveled more than 2,000 miles today from Lanzhou to the Northwest city of Ürümqi—another former major hub on the Silk Road. Upon arrival, we rehearsed with the Xinjiang Philharmonic Orchestra. The XPO was founded in 1996 and is made up of many ethnic groups, including Han Chinese, Uyghurs, Hui, Kazaks, Tajiks and Xibe. So many different languages and cultures but they come together through music in complete harmony!



September 17 / Ürümqi: Final concert of the tour. It’s hard to say goodbye to dear friends like Yo-Yo and Wu Tong but we ended on a high note and look forward to making music again soon.