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BSO cancels tour of East Asia due to coronavirus concerns

Conductor Andris Nelsons and pianist Yefim Bronfman were due to appear with the BSO in Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei, and Shanghai.Winslow Townson

The Boston Symphony Orchestra has canceled plans for a tour of East Asia, responding to the threat of the rapidly spreading coronavirus. The ensemble’s eight-concert tour under music director Andris Nelsons, with piano soloist Yefim Bronfman, was to take place from Feb. 6-16.

“On behalf of Andris Nelsons and the musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, we are all deeply disappointed that we will not be able to perform for the wonderful audiences in Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Shanghai,” BSO president and CEO Mark Volpe said in a statement released by the orchestra Thursday morning.

As of Thursday, China had reported more than 7,500 cases of coronavirus, and the US State Department had posted warnings to all Americans to “reconsider travel” to China and to avoid all travel to Hubei Province, where the virus was first identified. Earlier this week, the State Department evacuated 195 Americans from the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began.

In Hong Kong, all government-administered performance venues, including the Hong Kong Cultural Centre — where the BSO was scheduled to perform — have been closed since Jan. 29.


According to the BSO’s statement, the orchestra is considering scheduling some new Boston concerts for the period it was due overseas, including a free community program.

Changes to BSO tour itineraries are rare in the orchestra’s history, but not unprecedented. In 1960, a planned appearance in Seoul under the baton of Charles Munch was canceled after South Korea was engulfed in what came to be known as the April Revolution. The orchestra has not traveled there since, so its upcoming visit would have been the first in BSO history.

Geopolitical events also intervened in 1999, when the United States bombed the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia while the orchestra was again touring East Asia, this time led by Seiji Ozawa. The episode prompted widespread outrage in China. As rock-throwing protesters in Beijing trapped then-US ambassador Jim Sasser and his staff inside the American Embassy, the BSO chose to forgo its scheduled appearance in Beijing.


Jeremy Eichler can be reached at, or follow him @Jeremy_Eichler.