Mongolian president hails Philadelphia Orchestra tour
Little did many of us know: Friday was Mongolia-Philadelphia Friendship Day. And that proclamation seemed quite literal to Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj at a City Hall ceremony, who said: "I'm happy to call all of you friends of Mongolia. Let's work together!"
Little did many of us know: Friday was Mongolia-Philadelphia Friendship Day.
And that proclamation seemed quite literal to Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj at a City Hall ceremony, who said: "I'm happy to call all of you friends of Mongolia. Let's work together!"
The occasion was a state visit at the invitation of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which will make its debut in his country next June as part of its periodic Far East tours. The visit is said to be the largest nonpolitical United States delegation to the capital of Ulaanbaatar over the last 30 years, and is part of an endeavor on both sides to cultivate a stronger diplomatic bond between the countries.
Former Secretary of State James A. Baker, who visited Mongolia in 1990 and 1991, coined the expression "third neighbor" in reference to the U.S.-Mongolia bond - in contrast to China and Russia, which border the country. Mongolia has one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, and both sides are eager to get closer - with the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts being the catalyst.
Already in this country for the U.N. General Assembly, Elbegdorj arrived in Philadelphia for a morning ceremony at City Hall, a luncheon in his honor at the Kimmel Center, a 2 p.m. concert by the orchestra, and a lecture at the American Center for Mongolian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
Local Mongolians sought him out, some waiting outside City Hall, others inside, such as Anisa Tsakuginow, a supporter of Mayor Kenney and, at age 101, said to be the oldest Mongolian in Philadelphia. The president was only mildly taken aback when she first spoke to him in Russian.
Elbegdorj, 53, began life as a nomadic herder, but was a published poet as a young man, something reflected in lecture titles like "Every Beat of the Heart Is the Sound of Freedom" and "No Dictatorship is Forever."
Though a Harvard graduate who is perhaps more used to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Elbegdorj was keen to have the Philadelphia Orchestra because of its history of pathbreaking appearances in China, among other places.
He was eager to draw parallels between this city as the birthplace of American democracy, and his country's emergence as a democratic nation after the fall of the Soviet Union, which dominated its politics - a bloodless revolution in which he was a key figure. Elbegdorj is known to champion human rights causes, including women's rights.
The June concert "shows how far our relationship between our two nations had come, that it's not just between the presidents and the government," he said outside City Hall. "This is cultural exchange, and that's important. We have a great cultural heritage. And the Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the famous cultural messengers in the world."
He acknowledged that he had never heard the orchestra live, though at the afternoon concert, the first notes from the Fabulous Philadelphians were from his own national anthem - "Mongol Ulsyn Töriin Duulal" - as conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
"This is a very big deal for diplomatic relations with Mongolia," Debra Lo, foreign service officer at the U.S Department of State's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. "Secretary of State John Kerry was just in Mongolia in June, and was the first secretary of state to visit Mongolia in a very long time. The country is strategically positioned and an ally of the U.S. They like us. They want to improve relations in every respect."
That liking may become more mutual as time goes on. "I love Mongolia," said the Hong Kong-born Lo. "I have been there twice. It's a lovely, lovely country. It reminds me of Montana. The people are very warm and earnest. They touch me."
Elbegdorj's interest in the orchestra goes beyond what it represents. He said he loves Bach, Mozart, and Chopin. "I always listen," he said. "If you go to my home, there are some news channels on, but between them, always classical music."
So he's in a position to judge the acoustics at the Ulaanbaatar hall where the orchestra will perform? "Good. But maybe not as good as here," he said. "I have an idea: We have a square called Genghis Khan Square. It's in the open air. I hope they [the orchestra] will give one concert there. One indoors, one outdoors. I think people will really enjoy it."