August 3, 2008 / 5:41 AM / 10 years ago

Orchestra plays Tiananmen Square as police look on

BEIJING (Reuters) - A youth orchestra of 2,008 international musicians performed in Tiananmen Square on Sunday, the first foreign group to play there, as China showcased its new openness although the area was closed to all but invited guests.

Young musicians from the Beijing 2008 Olympic Orchestra take part in a special concert at Tiananmen Square prior to the Olympic Games in Beijing, August 3, 2008 REUTERS/Nir Elias

Police cordoned off the square, the scene of student protests in 1989, during the hour-long performance by the Beijing 2008 Olympics Orchestra involving musicians from schools and universities in China, the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Guam.

Using a location of such cultural significance for a musical event was a similar move to 2001 when the Three Tenors — Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras — sang in the Forbidden City to showcase Beijing as fit to hold the Olympics. The city was chosen to host the 2008 Games weeks later.

“This band is the first foreign group to perform on this historic ground and we are making history today,” Max Ronquillo, leader of the Guam Territorial Band, told Reuters.

“This is a significant message from the Chinese to say that China is now open to the world.”

As the orchestra drummed and trumpeted its way through medleys of classical pieces, songs by Irish singer and composer

Enya, and even a Gloria Estefan number, the police around the square stood to attention in the rising heat.

Students Jeff Detlefsen and Daniel Tubbs, both 20, from the California State University, Fresno, said they jumped at the chance to join the trip although neither are avid Olympic fans.

A conductor of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Orchestra gives directions to his musicians during a special concert at Tiananmen Square prior to the Olympic Games in Beijing, August 3, 2008. REUTERS/Nir Elias

“I don’t know if I will ever get to China again and I certainly won’t be playing in Tiananmen Square again so this really is a trip of a lifetime,” said Detlefsen, a music education student, who was playing the bass trombone.

Would they have watched the Games at home?

Slideshow (2 Images)

“I really only pay attention to the medal count,” admitted Tubbs, a criminology student, who was playing the trumpet.

The growing disinterest in the Games by Generation Y — those now aged about 14-28 — is a concern for International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge with figures showing that the average Olympic spectator is over 40.

To compete against the pull of more youth-orientated sports, music and computer games, the IOC has introduced sports like BMX cycling which makes its debut at Beijing and snowboarding for the Winter Olympics.

But lack of interest in the Games was hardly an issue for most of the students who spent years preparing to take part in the Beijing 2008 Olympics Orchestra and only had a few days as a group to rehearse together.

“I’ve always been interested in the Olympics and it is just such a great honor to be able to perform at such a historic event,” said 15-year-old Kirsty Mols, a flute player from Sheldon College, in Brisbane, Australia.

(Editing by Miles Evans)

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