In response to President Xi Jinping’s call for a “cultural renaissance,” the city of Harbin has invested many millions in building concert halls and sponsoring musical performances. The city, located near the country’s northeastern frontier, had been a major center of Western music a century ago, largely because of an influx of Russian Jews. Amy Qin writes:
The arts—and especially classical music—flourished [in Harbin] throughout the early 20th century. Nicknamed the St. Petersburg of the East, [it] was home to a thriving Jewish community that helped build a rich cultural scene, including China’s first symphony orchestra, made up of mostly Russian musicians. . . .
This summer the city . . . hosted . . . two concerts conducted by Zubin Mehta, featuring the Harbin Symphony Orchestra and fifteen members of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. . . . City officials have a “vision of building a cultural bridge with Israel,” said Mehta, the longtime music director of the Israel Philharmonic. “So I came as a catalyst between the two sides.” . . .
During the 1920s, the city was home to as many as 20,000 Jews. . . . [It] soon became a gateway for Western classical music in China. . . . Harbin had as many as 30 music schools where a number of prominent international musicians trained. . . . There were jazz orchestras, ballet performances, drama groups, theater companies, and even a Yiddish theater.