Li Delun in Philadelphia

April 2, 2022 (Saturday) / 10:00 am4:00 pm

Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion
Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
6th floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library; 3420 Walnut Street

Li Delun in Philadelphia

Ethnography, Archives, and Music Across the Pacific

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 currently holds a set of photographs of Li Delun with the Philadelphia Orchestra that, until recently, were unknown to Li’s family and rarely studied.

On April 2nd, 2022, a public symposium, pop-up photo exhibit, and recital will be held in Kislak 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 and Davyd Booth, participants of the 1973 concerts, will conclude the day, showing the continuity of transnational and intergenerational musical connections.

In addition to this one-day event, a website is being built to make the research more widely accessible.


Davyd Booth – Violinist, Philadelphia Orchestra
Booker Rowe – Violinist, Philadelphia Orchestra (retired)
Rosalind Zhang – Cellist, 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
Emily Wilcox – Associate Professor and Director of Chinese Studies, College of William & Mary
Chi-ming Yang – Associate Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania
Shelley Zhang – PhD Candidate, Department of Music, University of Pennsylvania
Chenshu Zhou – Assistant Professor of History of Art, University of Pennsylvania