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  • Symposium

Li Delun in Philadelphia

Ethnography, Archives, and Music Across the Pacific

On April 2nd, 2022, this symposium, along with a photo exhibit and recital, will be held in the Kislak Center to demonstrate the historic collaborations between Chinese and American musicians.

Featured Image: Li Delun conducting in Beijing, undated (Eugene Ormandy photographs, Ms. Coll. 330, 44.8.1)

This event has already occurred

April 2, 2022, 10:00am - 5:00pm
Online and Orrery Pavilion, Kislak Center, 6th Floor Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
Li Delun conducting

Often hailed as the father of Western classical music in China, Li Delun 李德伦 was a conductor, multi-instrumentalist, and advocate for the arts in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). From 1946 to 1949, Li was a Communist guerilla musician for the Communist Party of China during the Chinese Civil War. Following the establishment of the PRC, he served in various artistic leadership roles in Beijing, including as conductor of the Central Philharmonic. He worked tirelessly to promote Western classical music and protect musicians during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). In 1973, Li was instrumental to the success of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Beijing performances with the Central Philharmonic.

The Philadelphia Orchestra became the first American orchestra to tour the PRC in 1973. This historic tour occurred during the Cultural Revolution, a time of political tumult and harsh censorship, including of Western classical music. The University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center holds a set of photographs of Li Delun with the Philadelphia Orchestra that, until recently, were unknown to Li’s family, and rarely studied. These issues have been addressed by doctoral candidate Shelley Zhang with the help of staff from the Kislak Center.

On April 2nd, 2022, a public symposium, pop-up photo exhibit, and recital will be held in the Kislak Center that will foster interdisciplinary conversations between scholars, filmmakers, creative writers, and musicians while also addressing misconceptions of Chinese artistic practice. The event will demonstrate the historic collaborations between Chinese and American musicians and explore the collaborations that can occur today using ethnographic practices, archival methods, and performance. A string quartet concert featuring Rosalind Zhang, Li’s granddaughter, and Booker Rowe, Davyd Booth, and Jonathan Beiler of the Philadelphia Orchestra will conclude the day. Rowe and Booth participated in the 1973 China Tour and Beiler has played in every visit since then. Moreover, Rowe was the first African American musician to ever play with the ensemble, beginning in the late 1960s. In many ways, this event seeks to show the continuity of transnational and intergenerational musical connections, and the diversity that has historically existed in Western classical music, but that has been inadequately acknowledged.

Accordion List

Booker Rowe – Violin I, Philadelphia Orchestra (retired)
Davyd Booth – Violin II, Philadelphia Orchestra

Jonathan Beiler – Viola, Philadelphia Orchestra
Rosalind Zhang – Cello, Li Delun Foundation

Jennifer Lin – Creator of documentary, Beethoven in Beijing
Lei X. Ouyang – Associate Professor and Chair of Music, Swarthmore College
Nancy Rao – Professor and Head of Music Theory, Rutgers University
Madeleine Thien – Novelist and Professor of English, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Emily Wilcox – Associate Professor and Director of Chinese Studies, William & Mary
Chi-ming Yang – Associate Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania
Shelley Zhang – Doctoral Candidate in Music, University of Pennsylvania
Chenshu Zhou – Assistant Professor of History of Art, University of Pennsylvania

Ormandy and Delun
Ormandy and group
Li Delun with Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Eugene Ormandy, studying scores, exchanging gifts, and rehearsing in Beijing on September 15th, 1973. Eugene Ormandy photographs, Ms. Coll. 330, 42.32.1; 42.30.2

Non-Penn affiliated visitors must show a green pass from the PennOpen Campus system. Here are instructions for using the system:

  • Before arriving on campus, complete your vaccination, symptom, and exposure check at
  • You will receive a green pass when you report your fully vaccinated status, no symptoms, no recent contact with someone who may have COVID-19, and no recent positive test.
  • Show your green pass at the entrance to the library.

Program organized by Shelley Zhang, PhD Candidate in Music and 2021–2022 Wolf Humanities Center Graduate Research Fellow.

Penn’s Asian American Studies Program
Center for East Asian Studies
Center for Experimental Ethnography
Center for the Study of Contemporary China
Center for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Immigration
Department of Fine Arts, Stuart Weitzman School of Design
Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Department of English
Department of Music
Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Li Delun Foundation
Pan-Asian American Community House
Sachs Program for Arts Innovation
The Graduate Student Government of the School of Arts and Sciences (SASgov)
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Wolf Humanities Center