For Michael Ke Ma, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming tour of Japan and China will amount to a triumphal homecoming.
“It’s really exciting,” said the assistant principal bassoonist who grew up in Shanghai. “I’ve worked in Detroit from Day 1 and have always dreamed we could play my hometown.”
This is the DSO’s first trip abroad since 2001, making it a signal event for everyone in the institution, and another sign of both the orchestra’s fiscal health and rising ambition.
On Sunday, two days before its departure, the orchestra will perform a free send-off concert at Orchestra Hall.
Ma will get his chance to wow the homefolk on July 29, when the DSO wraps up its 15-day Asian Tour with a performance at the Shanghai Oriental Arts Center.
“I’m really looking forward to showing friends and family members how great this orchestra is,” he said.
The DSO has long wanted to resume traveling abroad, said Music Director Leonard Slatkin, but put such dreams on the shelf after the financial collapse of 2008.
“We decided we would never embark on anything where we were going to lose much money,” Slatkin said. “Going on tours isn’t about making money,” he added carefully, “but it is about not losing too much.”
In this case, the orchestra raised almost $1.3 million to underwrite the tour.
That plus fees from the 11 concert venues means “we are at the break-even point,” said DSO President and CEO Ann Parsons.
Lead sponsors included the William Davidson Foundation and the Ford Motor Company Fund, which alone put up $250,000.
When the orchestra approached the Davidson Foundation, Parsons said, “They said this was something Bill (Davidson) felt very strongly about — the ambassadorial role of the orchestra. And of course, we carry the banner of Detroit wherever we go.”
This is a particularly propitious moment for such a tour, given Detroit’s rising profile globally as a come-back city.
“People everywhere want to know what’s going on in Detroit, and whether the good things they’ve heard are true,” Parsons said. “That’s is a big shift in the narrative.”
International tours also are useful at times like this, said Ford Fund President Jim Vella, “when there’s a lot going on in the world and people need to find ways to come together.”
Audiences will get a healthy dose of American music, including George Gershwin’s much-loved “Rhapsody in Blue” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide Overture.”
The DSO also is playing pieces with special meaning for each of the two countries visited.
In Japan, the orchestra will perform “Far Calls, Coming Far!” by one of the nation’s most-famous 20th-century composers, Toru Takemitsu.
Chinese audiences, by contrast, will be treated to Wang Liping’s “The Dream of the Red Chamber,” music written for a hugely popular 1967 TV adaptation of a work of classic Chinese literature.
“I literally grew up with the series and its music,” said Ma, adding, “Chinese audiences will be really excited to hear a major American orchestra perform a traditional Chinese piece.”
He laughed. “I think they will be awed.”
‘Asia Tour send-off concert’
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
3711 Woodward, Detroit
3 p.m. Sunday