Eastman School of Music scraps China tour over ban of South Korean members

Eastman School of Music reverses decision on China tour after ban of South Korean members, public outrage

Eastman Theatre. (Google Maps image)

Eastman Theatre. (Google Maps image)

An upstate New York orchestra reversed course on Tuesday and canceled plans to tour China this winter after China refused to allow the group's three South Korean musicians to perform.

The Eastman Philharmonia from the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music initially said it would go anyway.

Late Tuesday, however, Eastman Dean Jamal Rossi issued a statement saying the tour would be postponed until everyone could go.

"I believe that given the particular circumstances of this tour, the best course of action for the Eastman community and the values we share is to wait until the Philharmonia can perform as one," Rossi wrote.

Rossi said last week that China's refusal to approve visas for South Korean artists was in response to the United States' decision to deploy a missile defense system in South Korea in 2016. He said in grappling with whether to cancel the tour, he worried it would "likely have a negative impact on Eastman's reputation within China, and potentially limit other opportunities to recruit, perform, and tour for our faculty and other ensembles."

The decision comes on the heels of two high-profile situations involving American institutions and the Chinese government. Apple earlier this month, under pressure from China, removed a smartphone app that enabled Hong Kong protesters to track police. Earlier, China's state TV canceled broadcasts of NBA games over a tweet by the general manager of the Houston Rockets in support of the protesters.

"It's been really uncomfortable because we want what's best for (our colleagues), we want what's best for the school, we want what's best for our relationship with China," trombone player Sophie Volpe told Rochester station WHAM last week.

Eighty members of the group had been scheduled to tour eight cities over 12 days.

After announcing that the tour would go forward, Rossi said, university officials continued to try, unsuccessfully, to obtain visas for the South Korean students through various channels. Consultation with university leadership, the tour organizers and others led to the decision to postpone, he said.