Russian cellist Oleg Vedernikov overnight became the most famous foreigner in China because of a performance by him not on the stage but in a train from Shenyang to Beijing.
The former principal cellist of the Beijing Symphony Orchestra was sacked by his employer on May 21, a week after he misbehaved in a train by placing his feet up on the seat of a female passenger in front of him, and verbally abusing her in Chinese when confronted by her.
The video of this drama was shot by a fellow passenger and placed on the Internet, capturing wide attention.
In the video, a policeman who came to settle the dispute asked what Vedernikov's occupation was. When he learned that Vedernikov is a musician, he said to the female passenger in an ironic tone, "Let it be. He's an artist."
The policeman eased the atmosphere a bit. According to his remarks, it seems that artists are understood to behave in different ways.
But Beijing Symphony Orchestra doesn't think so. Although Vedernikov released a video of his apology after the incident was exposed, the orchestra decided to fire him because he had "severely harmed the reputation of the orchestra".
"Beijing Symphony Orchestra is an ambassador of advanced culture. All employees, including foreign musicians, need to abide by the laws of the land, traditional moral codes, as well as the orchestra's rules and regulations," said the orchestra's music director Tan Lihua in a statement. "Employees should behave in a civilized fashion both on and off stage, maintain the manners expected of artistes and consciously safeguard the image and reputation of the orchestra."
With strong support from the government, Beijing Symphony Orchestra has an ambitious plan this season that includes collaboration with a number of top-notch maestros including Christoph Eschenbach and Daniel Barenboim, as well as a joint gala concert with London Philharmonic Orchestra in London on July 29 to celebrate the 2012 Olympics.
It's natural that Beijing Symphony Orchestra doesn't tolerate the behavior of Vedernikov when it's trying to build up its image as a world-class orchestra of China.
People have expressed different opinions on the Internet. Some believe that Beijing Symphony Orchestra's decision to fire Vedernikov is a little too serious and his musicality shouldn't be mixed with his everyday behavior. More people support the decision and some see Vedernikov as one of an increasing number of foreigners who harm Chinese society.
If Vedernikov were a Chinese, what he did would probably not cause as much attention. Although foreigners won't be stared at a lot in big Chinese cities as they used to be 30 years ago, foreigners are still treated quite differently in China.
On one hand, foreigners often get more admiration when they do something that is normal for the Chinese. On the other, when they fail to abide by the rules, they often meet more serious criticism, sometimes with nationalistic emotions.
Unfortunately it's the second case with Vedernikov. He will be remembered in China more for his misbehavior than for his solo in Bao Yuankai's symphony Peking Opera in the orchestra's EMI recording.