Yu said the orchestra often refuses commercial performances if the dates overlap with CPO's performance schedule.
Over the past decade, the orchestra has staged more than 500 concerts with an extensive repertoire covering a wide array of music styles, including symphony, chamber music, opera and contemporary music. Its audiences totaled more than 800,000. The orchestra has also collaborated with musical greats such as Krzysztof Penderecki, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Placido Domingo and Cheryl Studer.
Entering the world stage
No less important than its home performances, the CPO has toured more than 30 countries and regions in the world since 2002.
From February to April 2005, the CPO, led by Yu, embarked on a large-scale international tour in North America and Europe. In 40 days, the orchestra appeared in 22 cities throughout the United States, Canada, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Britain and Germany.
Performing in such prestigious concert halls as the Avery Fisher Hall in New York, Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall and the Great Theater in Warsaw, the CPO impressed its audiences, music professionals and media, international as well as local.
"The tour was an important event in the history of Chinese music," Yu said. "It told Chinese stories to the world."
During the tour, the CPO performed both Western and Chinese music, such as Song of the Earth by Chinese composer Ye Xiaogang, The Miraculous Mandarin by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok and Yellow River Piano Concerto, adapted from the Yellow River Cantata by Chinese musician Xian Xinghai.
"What is important is that the tour made the world understand the artistic pursuit of today's young Chinese and their pride in their own culture," Yu said.
On May 7, 2008, the CPO performed Mozart's Requiem at the Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican, in honor of Pope Benedict XVI, which was widely reported as a cultural bridge. The concert is unprecedented, as Beijing and the Vatican have had no diplomatic ties since 1951.
At the end of the concert, the CPO played Jasmine Flower, the symphonic adaptation of China's best-known folk song. "The audience, including many young priests, were moved by the music. Many of them shedded tears," Yu said.
In 2009, the CPO was selected by the website of Gramophone, the London-based monthly magazine widely regarded as one of the best classical music magazines in the world, as one of "the world's 10 most inspiring orchestras" along with the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.
In the view of the website's consulting jury which comprises leading musicians in the world, the CPO is "almost single-handedly bringing Western classical music to the ears and hearts of a vast nation."
Spreading the art
On January 30 this year, a concert in Beijing linked the CPO to famous Shanghai-style comedian Zhou Libo. Combining serious music with comedy, the bold crossover collaboration met both praises and doubts.
Directed to the negative feedback, Yu said the concert was only a kind of public education. The purpose of the cooperation with Zhou was to better popularize symphonic music among ordinary people.
"I've loved symphony since I was 20 years old," he said, "and I want to help explain this kind of music through comedy, and to help people love and understand symphony as I do."
Actually, the orchestra has already made many attempts to make symphonic music more popular in the country, such as performing the Peking Opera Women Generals of the Yang Family, cooperating with Chinese folk musicians and performing with young Chinese artists such as pop singer Jay Chou.
Education is an important focus of the CPO, said Li. The orchestra has been giving regular master classes and free concerts across the country since it was born.
In 2009, the CPO toured eight universities in Gansu and Shanxi provinces to spread the art among young students.
The CPO is now seen as a standard of the symphony circle in the country. Many newly established ensembles, like the Guangzhou and Shanghai symphony orchestras, follow the CPO in the aspects of recruitment, the training of performers and planning performance seasons.
Looking into the future of the orchestra, Li said the CPO would like to further strengthen cooperation with the world's top composers for opera works, as that best demonstrates the quality of an orchestra.
"The orchestra is also looking forward to taking part in the reform of traditional Chinese operas. In addition, it will continue to contribute to the popularization of classical music in China."