Over almost 180 years the New York Philharmonic has been enriched by members who reflect America’s diversity, and by appearances across the globe. Since 1961 the Orchestra’s musicians, travels, and collaborations have been notably marked by Asia and those who hail from that part of the world.
Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in Nagoya, Japan (1961-04-24) by Don HunsteinOriginal Source: New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital ArchivesNew York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives
An international touring ensemble beginning in 1930, the New York Philharmonic first traveled to Asia in 1961 when Leonard Bernstein conducted the Orchestra as part of part of the three-week “1961 Tokyo East-West Music Encounter.” That was only the beginning — to date the Philharmonic has given 108 performances in Japan.
Maurice Peress, Seiji Ozawa, and John Canarina (1961-62) by Bakalar-Cosmo PhotographersOriginal Source: New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital ArchivesNew York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives
The very next season the Philharmonic engaged Seiji Ozawa as one of the Orchestra’s three assistant conductors (seen in photo). This was an important opportunity for Ozawa, who would appear with the Philharmonic 124 times; he went on to serve as the longest-tenured music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Tōru Takemitsu, Ravi Shankar, Bright Sheng, and Tan DunOriginal Source: New York Philharmonic ArchivesNew York Philharmonic Archives
The Philharmonic has a rich history of commissioning works by composers from around the world, bringing important international voices to New York audiences. The first composer from Asia to receive a Philharmonic commission was Japan’s Toru Takemitsu, in 1967. Other composers of Asian heritage who have followed in his footsteps include (l. to r.) India’s Ravi Shankar, Chinese American Bright Sheng, and China’s Tan Dun.
Myung-Hi Kim and Yoko Takebe (1983-04-25)Original Source: New York Philharmonic ArchivesNew York Philharmonic Archives
Waves of immigrants to New York have been reflected in the members of the New York Philharmonic — Germans in the 19th century were followed by musicians from Italy and Russia. The first Philharmonic musician of Asian heritage was Myung-Hi Kim (second from right, a member from 1977 to 2010), and the first from Japan was Yoko Takebe (second from left, 1978–2014). They made their Philharmonic solo debuts alongside fellow violinists Carol Webb and Marina Kruglikov in 1983.
Zubin and Nancy Mehta arriving in Mumbai (circa August 1984) by Bert BialOriginal Source: New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital ArchivesNew York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives
Zubin Mehta, who was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, was the longest-tenured Music Director in the Orchestra’s modern era. He celebrated the Philharmonic musicians as individual virtuosi, often presenting them as concerto soloists and establishing the Ensembles chamber music series. He also presided over the Orchestra’s only tour to India, in 1984.
Helen Quach, Kyung-Wha Chung, and Yo-Yo MaOriginal Source: New York Philharmonic ArchivesNew York Philharmonic Archives
The first of the many stellar Asian and Asian American artists who have joined the Philharmonic over the decades included Vietnamese-born conductor Helen Quach (debut 1967), Korean-born violinist Kyung-Wha Chung (debut 1968), and Chinese cellist Yo-Yo Ma (debut 1978).
Qiang Tu, Cello (2019-01-19) by New York PhilharmonicNew York Philharmonic
China-born cellist Qiang Tu joined the Philharmonic in 1995. Here he tells how he came to New York and New York’s Orchestra.
Satoshi Okamoto, Bass (2019-01-22) by New York PhilharmonicNew York Philharmonic
Satoshi Okamoto has been a member of the Philharmonic’s bass section since 2003. In this video he shares some of his story.
Alan Gilbert, Former Music Director (2014-02-11) by Chris LeeNew York Philharmonic
The first Asian American Philharmonic Music Director was Alan Gilbert (tenure 2009–17). The son of two Philharmonic violinists, Michael Gilbert and Yoko Takebe, he deepened the Orchestra’s connection when touring Japan, including in this 2011 performance of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, which Gilbert narrated in Japanese at a Young People’s Concert in Tokyo.
Yoobin Son, Flute (2021-04-21) by New York PhilharmonicNew York Philharmonic
Flutist Yoobin Son was the first Korean to join the Orchestra’s woodwind section, in 2012. In this video she talks about what she likes about living in New York, performing in the Philharmonic, and performing back home.
Shanghai Orchestra Academy commencement, 2019 (2019-07-01) by Chris LeeNew York Philharmonic
Today the Philharmonic’s annual activities include rich collaborations with Asia. The Orchestra continues its work with the Shanghai Orchestra Academy, which provides graduate level training to rising orchestral musicians through annual visits by Philharmonic musician-instructors and more.
(Seen in photo: Shanghai Orchestra Academy graduates and SOA Founding Director Long Yu with Philharmonic musician-mentors, Music Director Jaap van Zweden, President & CEO Deborah Borda, and others)
Lunar New Year Concert and Gala (2018-02-18) by Chris LeeNew York Philharmonic
The New York Philharmonic also celebrates the contributions of Asian artists at home in New York through the annual Lunar New Year Concert and Gala, which is often preceded by outdoor activities such as this 2018 performance by students of New York City–based Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company.
Created by the New York Philharmonic
Gabryel Smith, Director, Archives & Exhibitions
Bill Levay, Digital Archivist
Monica Parks, Director of Publications
Jen Luzzo, Director, Public Relations
Caroline Heaney, Publicist
Ian Good, Assistant, Digital Platforms
Starr International Foundation is the Presenting Sponsor of the New York Philharmonic–Shanghai Orchestra Academy and Partnership and the Lunar New Year Gala.