Play a China tour with my orchestra but pay your own way

Play a China tour with my orchestra but pay your own way


norman lebrecht

September 14, 2019

Message received:

Greetings Musicians;

My name is Mary Winterfeld; I work with Maestro Lawrence Golan at the Yakima Symphony and am the current coordinator for the American Festival Orchestra China Tour under his direction.

On behalf of Maestro Golan, I would like to invite you to join us for the China Tour in December 2019. I am looking for a few more cellists to complete our roster. Due to time constraints, I am emailing multiple musicians. If you are interested, please email me in the next few days.

We will have two rehearsals in Seattle on December 22nd (3:30-6:00 pm and 7:30-10:00 pm). Each musician is responsible for cost and purchase of their RT ticket to China to arrive at Beijing PEK on December 24 no later than 8:30 pm. Many musicians are flying American Airlines which is currently running about $1400. Once in China, all expenses are covered: lodging, meals, and transportation. There is no other compensation and sightseeing expenses are on your own.

I have attached our itinerary and repertoire for you to review. I am happy to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to email or call me: 509-594-5059.

Thank you for your consideration!

Mary Winterfeld
American Festival Orchestra




  • Stereo says:

    Ridiculous arrangement.

  • Branimir says:

    WTH a photo of the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra taken at the Lisinski concert hall has to do with this article?!

  • Couperin says:

    Could I join even if I don’t play cello? I could take a few lessons before the gig, but something tells me I wouldn’t have the lesson fees reimbursed.

  • Chen says:

    Besides this being a nonsense offer to go and work for free on top of paying for your own ticket to China (not to mention how unattractive an offer it is from an Orchestra that will rehearse 2 times only before going on tour!), it is also very illegal to go work in China (and since it is China, a bit dangerous to risk it) without the proper visa, meaning if you enter on a tourist visa and actually work (which performing concerts with an Orchestra is) you might at the very least end up being deported and at the most actually be arrested and held in jail for a while.

    Also, are Americans allowed in China without even a tourist visa? I wasn’t aware of that…if they still are though, they would also need time to apply for their own visa which at the very least will need for them to show where they are going and where they will stay (which again, might expose them to the authorities for going to actually perform there).

    This is just so ridiculously unprofessional.

  • May says:

    In other words, please support our conductor in his vanity project, while at the same time, not only shelling out your own airfare, but also airfare for your cello, unless you prefer to risk checking it in the baggage hold (which our insurance will not cover). Thanx!

  • Esther Cavett says:

    On AA would they have to buy a second seat for the cello if they were to do this unpaid work ? Who is she writing to – already peniless students ?

  • Esther Cavett says:

    Also, could there be some Musicians’ Union type problem here – players with tenure being joined by essentially amateurs ? This will be an interesting story to follow.

  • PHF says:

    Well, here in Brazil we have a lot of so called “social projects” and “youth orchestras” which work in the same way. You receive a miserable scholarship and the institution offers you the “incredible opportunity” of travelling to China or Germany in order to play a couple of concerts, but the institution can’t cover the expenses so they offer you to use your “scholarship” to pay your part and also engage the orchestra in heavy concert schedule in the months before the trip to get funds from the community. If you are not interested in engaging you’re kindly invited to leave your sit in order to put someone else who is “commited” with this great “cause”. The conductors and the “supporting staff” always travel with the orchestra, generally with their family members. Do they pay their own expenses? I think you can guess the answer. Some of these students think this is indeed a great opotunity. If they are being manipulated or not is food for thought.

  • Orchestra player says:

    This must be an “opportunity” for students. Such terms would be insulting to a professional.

    • Also an Orchestra Player says:

      You would think that this is an “opportunity” for students…alas, they have been contacting professionals and freelancers for this. I am aware of at least two colleagues —freelancers in the DC area — that have been graciously invited for this amazing opportunity. Golan is also MD of the York (Pa.) Symphony so there are connections to the mid-Atlantic region. So, on top of paying their way from Seattle …these people also have to pay to get to Seattle.

      Clueless is an understatement when referring to Lawrence Golan. Clueless and oh-so self-important.

      • Musician says:

        I’m a member of the York Symphony and I received a similar email as the one above. To say I was shocked is an understatement. Another of our musicians that also received an email actually contacted management thinking it could be a scam.

  • John Rook says:

    That’s brass neck for you.

  • Shimi says:

    So you have to spend $1400 on a ticket, probably get yourself a visa at additional cost, spend the Chtistmas time away from your family and get no compensation. I’m sure they will have loads of people fighting for the few”coveted” places.

  • Jewelyard says:


  • Simon says:

    “Maestro” Lawrence Golan. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Nick2 says:

    Is this a joke? Travelling over the Christmas/New Year period is nuts in terms of cost. The excellent Hainan Airlines flies non-stop round trip flights Seattle/Beijing for less than $500 for most of the year. United, American and Delta are fractionally higher but still under $500. For Christmas, the fares skyrocket! And the Chinese organiser does not even arrange free sightseeing? Who organised this junket, I wonder?

  • Rustier Spoon says:


  • David K. Nelson says:

    No mention of an audition or audition tape or submitting a resume or CV. So anyone with cello, bow and case (and a cake of rosin) who has the cash can play along? I know some cellists who would jump at the chance even given these terms. Of course, some of them struggle with the “tricky rhythms” of “The Swan” ….

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    This is absolutely disgusting.

  • Kamile says:

    Omg… Is this a joke? I am also wondering how the hell they managed to get ANYBODY to play…

  • anon says:

    Well, I suppose there may be some who hate their relatives so much that they would pay good money for a pretext to avoid spending time with them at Christmas! Or maybe there are some who crave company at Christmas, but have no close family/friends.

    Given that Winterfeld is recruiting ‘cellists, she should surely clarify whether the “about $1400” includes the cost of a seat for the ‘cello?

  • NYMike says:

    Nothing like paying to play!

  • The View from America says:

    I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that there was more than just this letter that went out to the one cellist who helpfully passed it on to NL.

    I’m thinking there’s another letter that states, “I am looking for a few more violinists to complete our roster. Due to time constraints, I am emailing multiple musicians.”

    … And another that states, “I am looking for a few more violists to complete our roster. Due to time constraints, I am emailing multiple musicians.”

    … And another that states, “I am looking for a few more flautists to complete our roster. Due to time constraints, I am emailing multiple musicians.”

    … And so on.

  • AndyHat says:

    The itinerary:

    December 25, 2019 – Jan. 2, 2020
    American Festival Orchestra – China Tour
    December 25, 26: concerts in Yinchuan, Ningxia
    December 28: concert in Wuhai, Inner-Mongolia
    December 30: concert in Ordos, Inner-Mongolia
    January 1: concert in Baotou, Inner-Mongolia
    January 3: concert in Qingdao, Shandong
    Denise Dillenbeck, violin

    Not exactly the top tier Chinese venues…

  • Martin H says:

    You are all so seriously misinformed. You have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve played with the American Festival Orchestra on two different China tours. On the first, Golan was the conductor – very professional he is, too. Yes, I had to pay some – a small fraction of what it would cost to go it alone as much of the trip is subsidized by the Chinese gov’t or businesses there. The Visa process is very detailed – we sent it in months ahead of time to get all the paper work cleared. The first trip was in late December to early January and yes it was very, very cold in northern China – like Chicago. The orchestra was comprised of professionals, students, retirees and other qualified musicians who wanted a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And that it was. You get to go to cities and play in places you’ve never heard of to audiences that can’t seem to get enough of western classical music. You play in auditoriums that quite literally can hold a 747 on stage. And they’re unheated too and the high-end Steinway pianos rarely tuned!
    The second trip was in summer and we got to see Mongolia and Tibet. Playing there was a phenomenal experience.
    What you see of China far exceeds any touristy tour. The Great Wall, Forbidden City, the Terracotta Army are just for starters. Golan and Alex Zheng, the conductor of the 2nd tour, took us to other sites that very, very few westerners have ever seen.

    It’s not “absolutely disgusting” or “ridiculous”. It was a great opportunity to see another part of the world doing something you love: making music. Everyone I went on the tours with still raves about it – a life changing experience for all. If you think it’s dangerous, you’re absolutely wrong. I felt safer in any Chinese city any time of day or night than I ever would in parts of New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, London, or Vienna if you want to know the truth. The Chinese people are overwhelmingly friendly, curious, helpful. The food there is wonderful and so different; I can’t eat “chinese” in America anymore – it can’t begin to compare to the real thing. Do they have problems? Sure – like the water system needs a modern overhaul as does Mexico. Hotel sanitation is iffy. But all this naysaying about the AFO and China is severely wrong. If I’m ever asked to go again I’ll do it without hesitation.

    • Nick2 says:

      On the posted itinerary, where is there sufficient time to see the Forbidden City in Beijing or the Terracotta Army outside Xi’an? The distances between the cities are extensive and none goes anywhere near Beijing or Xi’an!

      Seeing The Forbidden City at the start is impossible because there will either be a horribly long overnight bus to Yinchuan or a reasonably early 2 hour flight followed by an afternoon rehearsal in the venue prior to the first concert. How does any ad hoc orchestra pull together a professional performance on just two rehearsals in Seattle and then one in the first venue when everyone will be pretty jet-lagged?

      Besides the distance between the last two stops – Baotao and Qingdao – is around 1,400 kms and there are no non-stop flights!

      And then, doesn’t the blurb state that sightseeing is at your own expense? It is surely unbelievable that the local promoter is not paying for whatever sightseeing is possible. But I expect bus trips between the other stops will make reasonable sightseeing almost impossible.

    • Nick2 says:

      Then, I’m curious about Martin H’s comment about getting a trip to China for a small fraction of what it would cost to go it alone. That’s nonsense. You can go solo in November on any of the airlines I mentioned earlier with fares of under $500. Stay ten days in 3-star hotels in those particular cities, eat Chinese meals and you still have enough left over for sightseeing. Better still, you can make a shorter tour to far more interesting cities like Xi’an and Chengdu or the same price.

  • Ben Mercato says:

    Wait…you mean I get to go to China and perform in a symphony orchestra?

    Can I add to my resume that I am an international artist that has performed in China?

    And it’s with a Maestro and not just a conductor?

    In that case sign me up. Seems well worth the $5000 it will cost assuming nothing goes wrong.

  • Bruce says:

    Well, at least they’re up front about the terms…

    The only people I can imagine agreeing to this gig would be Chinese-American students from wealthy families whose parents would agree to send them on a trip to China for something that could look like professional experience on their résumé if you don’t examine it too closely… Or, I guess, people with just a lot of money and a cello, who think this kind of thing sounds like fun.

  • DAVID says:

    I think the main issue with this is whether or not players, regardless of past experience, find this an acceptable arrangement in the first place. I guess you could look at it as an opportunity to visit a foreign country at a reduced cost — believe it or not, there are relatively well-known festivals, headed by top-name conductors, who actually offer just slightly better arrangements, soliciting players to work for what is essentially a living stipend just enough to cover day-to-day expenses, plus free housing — all of this in exchange for a rehearsal schedule similar to that of a symphony orchestra (about 7 services a week). Astoundingly, such venues often feature players from the most prestigious orchestras, who view them as an opportunity to have essentially a subsidized vacation — even though it’s hard to see how a 7-service week could result in any kind of holiday, even in the loveliest of settings. The main issue here is where to draw the line — assuming there is a line to be drawn at all. Whereas in most professions there is a tacit understanding that work should be reasonably compensated according to what the market dictates, in classical music there is still a widespread mindset according to which one should make compromises for reasons such as “networking,” “experience,” “exposure” and so on — arguments, by the way, which rarely pan out . The problem is that this mindset ends up eventually cheapening the profession as a whole, and it should be no surprise to see orchestra boards, during contract negotiations, invoke the fact that musicians enjoy what they do as a justification for cutting their salary. I don’t begrudge young players the desire to visit a foreign country and/or have a unique life and musical experience, but the perception that music is a legitimate profession that deserves adequate pay is something that needs to be fought for if the profession is to survive at all. Were people to turn down such arrangements, these venues would have only 2 choices: offer adequate pay, or cease to exist altogether.

    • Nick2 says:

      “I don’t begrudge young players the desire to visit a foreign country and/or have a unique life and musical experience.” Nor do I – absolutely. But beware of where this tour is taking its players. This is not a scenic route by any stretch of the imagination. Not are the cities on the usual touring circuit for visiting orchestras. If I was decades younger and interested in visiting China with some fellow musicians, I might be interested in taking part but only if I could spend an extra few days in Beijing on the way home in order to take in some of that city’s many major attractions. But then I would not consider doing such a trip around Christmas when temperatures will be at or near zero throughout. All the extra clothing would really test my 20 kg baggage limit!

    • Musician says:

      You hit the ‘nail on the head’ David. I don’t know about other folks, but the professional musicians I know & regularly work with don’t pay the bills with ‘exposure’. Adequate pay is a constant struggle for most musicians. When people undercut their colleagues or go along with all the ‘pay to play’ scams, they just make it more difficult for the rest of us. If I were to add up my expenses over the years (including lessons, travel to & from lessons, music purchased, instruments, supplies, repairs, insurance AND all the hours spent practicing to be able to show up at a gig & sight read whatever’s put in front of me!), I’m pretty certain that most other professions wouldn’t even come close. Just my 2 cents worth.

  • larry says:

    Mr. Golan has a good deal of excellent professional experience. I’m not commenting on the value of this trip, only that he is far from being an amateur.

    “Lawrence Golan (born 1966) is an American orchestral conductor and violinist. He is the Music Director of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra in Colorado, the Yakima Symphony Orchestra in Washington state, the York Symphony Orchestra in Pennsylvania, and the Lamont Symphony Orchestra and Opera Theatre at the University of Denver where he is director of orchestral studies and professor of conducting at the Lamont School of Music.”

  • Golan Height of Impertinence says:

    What a scam! If I want a vacation, I book myself a return ticket to Beijing. Buying a plane ticket and getting myself to Inner Mongolia and giving my services for free is not my idea of a vacation. Let’s not forget: the average temperature for Inner Mongolia in the winter is -23 C to -10 C.

  • David Rogers says:

    Since the organization is named in the original letter (an error on the part of the author), it should be clarified that this tour is neither a function of nor connected in any way to the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. The Yakima Symphony organization pays musicians for every service they are asked to perform, including travel compensation where appropriate, and makes a point of encouraging the larger community to view all professional music-making through this lens as well.

  • ViolaDoc says:

    Well, this has been quite the dogpile…
    I see the word “scam” again and again in these comments. This is not a scam. A scam involves some sort of misrepresentation, an offer made in bad faith. There was nothing of the sort here. The musicians who went on this tour knew what they were getting into, and they decided that it was worth doing. Maybe this arrangement isn’t for YOU, but that doesn’t warrant trashing Golan and everyone else involved in planning these tours.