Chinese Mongolian musicians clad in long colorful robes and leather boots performed at the Basilica of Notre-Dame du Port in Nice, France, on March 11, producing sounds which are alien to the Romanesque basilica－a UNESCO World Heritage site dating to the 6th century.
And using the morin khuur (the horse-head fiddle) and such other such instruments, the musicians performed both Western classics－pieces from Czech composer Bed ich Smetana's comic opera, The Bartered Bride and Carmen Overture by French composer Georges Bizet－as well as nomadic melodies, such as Thousands of Horses Galloping by Chiborag, a composer from the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
During the one-hour concert, the orchestra from Inner Mongolia gave the 2000-strong audience a glimpse of the grasslands through its music.
The Orchestre d' Harmonie de Nice also joined in the performance.
The Uxin Matouqin Symphony Orchestra from Uxin Banner, in Southwestern Inner Mongolia, which was formed in 2010, was in Nice over March 10-14. And it is the only symphony orchestra in China, which features morin khuur players and vocal performers who use the traditional khoomei (throat-singing) technique.
The orchestra was in Nice as part of the 2018 China-EU Tourism Year and for the Happy Chinese New Year events organized by China's Ministry of Culture.
On March 12, the orchestra performed at the Conservatory of Nice.
When the orchestra's show at the Conservatory of Nice ended, Andre Chauvet, the mayor of Nice, walked onto the stage, saying that he was impressed by the orchestra and the traditional Mongolian instruments, especially the morin khuur, according to Chagan.
The conductor then gave a morin khuur and his baton to the mayor.
Chagan, 57, who grew up in Uxin Banner, started learning to play Western instruments, such as the oboe and the piano, as a child. But he says the morin khuur is his favorite instrument.
"The morin khuur is magical with a profound history, which deserves to be known by more people. Though it has just two strings, it can produce a wide range of sounds," says Chagan, adding that it represents the identity of the Mongolian ethnic group.
Recounting how he got involved with the orchestra, Chagan says he was the conductor of the Singing and Dancing Troupe of Inner Mongolia in 2010, when he was asked by the local government to launch the Uxin Matouqin Symphony Orchestra.
Initially, Chagan found the job challenging as the morin khuur had never been used as a main instrument for a symphony orchestra.
But Chagan, who is now based in Beijing and has composed music for more than 40 films and TV series, says the most difficult part is rearranging Western classical music for the orchestra.
Speaking about his current mission, he says: "Now, we want to take the instrument to an international audience, but the core is to keep the culture alive and focus on the morin khuur."
To achieve his goal, the composer has rearranged folk songs from Northwest China, including Shan Dan Dan Hua Kai Hong Yan Yan (Red Morningstar Lilies are in Blossom), for the morin khuur, to showcase the versatility of the instrument.
Separately, around 25 original works for the morin khuur have been written by Chagan and other composers, reflecting the lives of people from the Mongolian ethnic group.
Also, since the orchestra's birth, the musicians have developed more than 200 repertories, comprising both Western classical music and works inspired by Mongolian ethnic culture.
In 2014, the orchestra made its debut at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing. And the same year, it gave more than 20 shows across Inner Mongolia.
Speaking about the orchestra, Yilaletu, 45, the orchestra's director and also a morin khuur player, says: "Though the orchestra plays Western classical music, we also draw inspiration from our folk tales about love, brotherhood and courage. They are our wealth."
Yilaletu says more than 10,000 people from Uxin Banner's 1200,000 residents play the morin khuur.
"The number proves the popularity of the instrument," he says.
The shows in Nice marked the start of exchange programs under the Silk Road International League of Theaters, launched in 2016 by the China Arts and Entertainment Group.