A flood of fake orchestras descends on China

A flood of fake orchestras descends on China


norman lebrecht

December 21, 2016

Rudolf Tang has spotted any number of fake-name orchestras that are touring China at present.

The German Radio orchestra, for instance.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Rome

The Austrian Mahler Philharmonic

The Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra…. The Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra was initiated by distinguished maestro Mr. Jed Gaylin, gathering many extremely talented artists who had passed strict examinations. These artists meet the highest performance standards in the United States as well as worldwide. The Orchestra is not only devoted to explore classical music, but also continues to explore modern music tracks, and thus is appreciated by classical music fans and popular music fans alike.

If you have been approached by anyone organising these phoney bands, please let us know. If you are already touring with one of them, make sure you get paid up front.


  • MacroV says:

    I used to read about fake Russian orchestras touring Asia, with names that sound like they should be legitimate but aren’t. But the Russians sort of caused this problem for themselves because there are a LOT of orchestras in Moscow – the 6-7 that most people have heard of, and about a dozen others that just play intermittently. Interesting thing is, they’re generally very good. And if they’re not actually using the name/trademarks of an existing group, not sure what anyone can do about it. Though the Philadelphia Orchestra might have a case against the “Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra;” that one can definitely cause confusion to those who don’t know to look beyond the name. At least we know that Jed Gaylin is real, thanks to this Slipped Disc item from earlier this year: https://slippedisc.com/2016/03/flute-blames-demeaning-maestro-for-unfair-dismissal/

  • Una Barry says:

    A bit like fake perfume, except the Met Police in London soon got a grip on that in Oxford Street! Certainly you can’t do anything about the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. Both would be seen as legitimate by using a place in the name. But the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of x, y, or z is very, very dodgy, and the fake one could possibly be sued for using Royal, never mind about the rest!

  • Petros Linardos says:

    A NY Times 2011article raises similar questions about orchestras touring smaller US cities.

    • William Safford says:

      As I wrote elsewhere on this blog, I heard the “Tchaikoski St. Petersburg Symphony,” or whatever they called themselves, whose U.S. tour was sponsored by CAMI.

      They were embarrassingly mediocre. The Interlochen high school orchestra is a much better ensemble.

  • Bill Ecker says:

    On the other hand, if it gives unemployed, or underemployed musicians a chance to play and get paid, I don’t see the harm in it. Lots of pick up orchestras in NYC assembled for this event, or the other going on for years. They brag from time to time “with members of the New York Philharmonic, etc. Keep in mind, the recording studios used to put together orchestras for Walter, Toscanini and Stokowski to record.

    • David Osborne says:

      This is a phenomenon that has been around for some time. Often predominantly Russian players, and the ones that I came into contact with were seriously underpaying.

    • MacroV says:

      Those studio orchestras didn’t try to mislead anyone about who they were, which I’m not sure one can say about those noted above. In some cases they were a major orchestra that for contractual reasons couldn’t appear under their own name.

    • NYMike says:

      NYC musicians playing in NY orchestras other than the NY Phil or MET all play under Local 802, AFM union contracts guaranteeing wages, benefits and tenure even though these orchestras are not full-time. Those few fake touring orchestras who actually play in NYC – and they are FEW – employ underpaid foreign musicians whose living/working standards are contemptible.

      The studio orchestras assembled in the ’50s-’60s for Stokey and Walter all worked under AFM national agreements specifically for recoding. Toscanini’s NBC Symphony existed as a full-time staff orchestra under AFM contract during the 17 years he conducted.

  • Dirk Fischer says:

    Mr. Lebrecht, it seems that you made a mistake. The only orchestra you did not include a picture of seems to be called “Philadelphia Festival Orchestra”, which has quite a different meaning than Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. If you had researched 5 seconds, you would have found the following link, including a picture with the correct title.

    If you have any proof of any of the people involved in the orchestras mentioned not paying musicians correctly, please let us know. If not – why do you imply so?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      It’s marketed as both, festival and symphony – and festival/symphony. I preferred not to confuse our readers.

      • Dirk Fischer says:

        If you had wanted to be clear, you could have posted the picture (which says “Philadelphia Festival Orchestra”). The accompanying text mentions the correct title 4 times as well.

        When are you going to offer proof for any of these orchestras mistreating musicians by not paying them correctly, as you imply?

        • David Osborne says:

          I’ve been told exactly that (the underpaying) by musicians that have taken the work. I won’t for obvious reasons name the orchestra but it wasn’t one of these. Needless to say the names are just made up, and here’s a clue- They tend to play Vivaldi.

          • Dirk Fischer says:

            I also know of orchestra who do not pay musicians. But Lebrecht referred to these orchestras specifically, and when making such accusations, one should be able to back them up.

      • NY "Phil" says:

        And I’ve seen this group advertised at several venues and ticket outlets in China as the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra ( often in the same paragraph).

  • herrera says:

    My favorite is a poster I saw once in a town in eastern Europe of an American university orchestra that was there for one performance at a local venue.

    On the poster, the first line was very small print, and the second line was HUGE letters, and it read:

    the university of

    Ha ha ha, absolutely brilliant advertising. No fake name! You just had to read the fine print!

    I’m sure the locals thought, during the concert, WTF???

  • apalled says:

    In Moscow I saw a concert of the Vienna Strauss Philharmonic Orchestra… should I tell you which was the last encore?! Lol!

    The musicians didn’t look really austrian and the conductor was a young italian guy… actually he did really a very good job, I rarely see conductors which makes music from the beginning till the end, but the musicians were not good instrumentalists at all.

    The name of this orchestra is really a very good bite…

  • apalled says:

    In Moscow I saw a concert of the Vienna Strauss Philharmonic Orchestra… should I tell you which was the last encore?! Lol!

    The musicians didn’t look really austrian and the conductor was a young italian guy… actually he did really a very good job, I rarely see conductors which makes music from the beginning till the end, but the musicians were not good instrumentalists at all.

    The name of this orchestra is really a very good bite…

  • Nick says:

    As others have pointed out, pick-up orchestras touring under fake names is far from new in the music business. Conductors who happen to work in a (musically) developing country like China will often put together orchestras which they can then tour. But I wonder how major, long-standing promoters like the Shanghai Grand Theatre or even the more recent Xinghai Concert Hall in Guangzhou can book an outfit titled The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Rome? Italy has not had a royal family since 1946! And the ticket prices for next month’s tour – up to US$85 in Shanghai and nearly $150 in Guangzhou!

  • Ronen Nissan says:

    Dear Sir! Please allow me to share with you what , or rather who, is behind the so called German Radio Orchestra. I am an Israeli born Vienna based conductor. During a tour of Israel back in 2008 with the (by now defunct) “Spirit Of Europe” chamber orchestra (Austria) I was approached by one of the players, Mr. Walter Schreiber, who told me about a chamber orchestra he runs back in Germany, an ensemble founded by musicians from various German radio orchestras, and thus called ” Deutsches Radio Kammerorchester” (http://deutsches-radio-kammerorchester.de/). As as result of a long period of negotiations over a few years with local Chinese promoter, including several trips to China, I became the first conductor to introduce this ensemble to the Chinese market, leading it in its first (and so far most successful) 13-concert 9-city tour of China during the 2012/13 Season holiday. As the orchestra was enlarged to consist of 50 players, the word ” Chamber” was conveniently dropped from the orchestra’s name , hence “German Radio Orchestra” .
    Little did I suspect that at the end of this tour Mr. Walter Schreiber, in an act of professional betrayal and out most human indecency, breaking all basic trust between artists, would go behind my back without my knowledge to the local agent and suggest a different German conductor for the next tour, which indeed took place two years later, and yet another one for this year’s tour. If this act has anything to do with Mr. Walter Schreiber being German, and me being Israeli – that I let the readers decide. Be it as it may be, I warn all my colleagues to stay clear from Mr. Walter Schreiber and the so called German Radio Orchestras.
    Ronen Nissan
    P.S. not even sure this name is even legal in Germany.

    • Stephen Owades says:

      The events you describe don’t sound particularly scandalous. If Mr. Schreiber put this orchestra together and engaged you to conduct them on an Asian tour, it’s hard to see what’s wrong with him using the same name and format with different conductors on subsequent tours. Whether the group was identified in a misleading fashion is another matter, but you went along with that and I don’t see how you can object to it later.

      • Ronen Nissan says:

        Dear Mr. Owades, please read carefully what I wrote. It was I who recommended to the local agent to engage this particular orchestra, from a choice of about 3-4 different orchestras, not the other way round. It was I who negotiated with the agent for over two years (not Mr. Schreiber), including traveling twice to Shanghai (on my own expense) in order to finalize all details such as fees, program, soloists, venues etc ( not Mr. Schreiber).

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          So are you saying Mr Schreiber tricked you because it was explicitly understood that you would participate in more tours with that ensemble in the future for helping to get the first one put together? Or just that you had expected him to re-invite you out of gratefulness for your contribution to the first tour, and you are simply disappointed that didn’t happen?

  • Ben says:

    Just my $0.02: This kind of bogus advertising is very common in Asia other than Japan. For instance, I have found numerous advertisements of products prefixed with ‘USA’, even such products do not even exist in the USA market! (USA in Chinese could be translated to ‘Beautiful Nation’, not necessary meant United States of America). On the other hand, many ‘top products’ being advertised do not even exist in their alleged country of origin.

    Even in upscale shipping centers across China and Hong Kong, one would see numerous upscale-looking stores name like ‘XXX, Paris’, ‘YYY, New York’, etc, as if XXX, YYY are major designer/brand names from Europe and America, when such names are complete unknown if exist at all! Turned out, one store manager quietly confessed, the ‘New York’, ‘Paris’ store name suffixes just reflect the store owner’s home city!

    Unfortunately, China is still at a cultural level considerably behind its European and North America counterparts, even it thinks its economical and military mights alone could justify being the new Big Brother. We are talking about a nation where internet traffic is heavy censored, and many things are so fake, parents refuse to buy baby products being sold locally, bandits kidnap babies and toddlers – beat them into handicapped beggars for profits, and flipping burgers at McDonald’s is considered a prestigious job to be shown to your friends and family with full pride.

    Nevertheless, not to digress, even such shady orchestra names would not be considered legally fake (as such would imply impersonating an organization), even it is a good thing that demand for live orchestra music exceeds regular supply, the ticket prices quoted are truly excessive for such pick-up ensembles.

    • Rich Patina says:

      Ben, I was with you until you looked down your nose at people who “flip burgers at McDonald’s”. Shame on you. I’ve occasionally watched the workers at McDonald’s and they are some of the hardest workers one will ever see. It is no lesser a job than any other job in this world. Anyone who works is worthy of praise and respect.

      Flipping burgers at McDonald’s, Ben? There, but for the grace of God, goes you. Show some humility.

  • Vittorio Parisi says:

    I think that somebody should check not only some Orchestra names but conductors cv also. I can offer to you 2 cases happened to me. In 2014 I was contacted by Russian Opera House in order to conduct Madama Butterfly in a their festival a few months later. I accepted and received all details including rehearsals plan. After a month, when I was working to have a proper working Visa, the Artistic Director wrote me that the all festival was cancelled due to financial problems. It happens. After another couple of months I checked their website and I discovered that not only the festival was starting but that Madama Butterfly was in the program and conducted by another Italian conductor. Checking the cv of this unknown conductor I discovered he was Principal conductor of a symphonic orchestra of a small Italian town that has not an orchestra at all and that he was teaching conducting in an Italian Conservatorio that really has never had a conducting class! I wrote back to the Artistic Director protesting for all this and he apologized telling me this was something decided by the Opera Manager and he had not the courage to tell me the truth. The Opera Manager answered me only that my contract was not signed yet…anyway she was fired a few months later.
    The second case is the cv of another Italian so called conductor that writes he teaches conducting in Milano Conservatorio where I hold this position since 1997. His cv is available also on a couple of managements websites. I know for sure that exploiting this false information and spreading it he has been invited to teach in a few European conducting masterclass!

    • Gian Luigi Zampieri says:

      Vittorio, I can easily imagine who was “behind the courtain” of what you wrote above.
      Here I’ve found my face in the poster of this “Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Rome”.
      I’ve been contacted for a december/january tour in China but I didn’t accept for many reasons, mainly due to my health conditions of last months.
      I just came back from Romania, I never went to China in my life but… my face is there.
      Unfortunately it happens far too often in italian world of small managements.

  • Gian Luigi Zampieri says:

    Concerning the poster of the so-called “Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Rome” there is my face in the middle but I’m travelling among Italy, Romania and Poland for Christmas/Hannukkah.
    In august of this year I’ve been contacted for a tour in China but I had to renounce because of my schedule with Filarmonica Oltenia (Craiova – Romania) where I work as music director.
    I guess this orchestra is touring China with another conductor, but I ignore which one.
    I’ll investigate about this improper use of my image.