Welcome to the Lunar New Year–2019 is the year of the Earth Pig, and people born under this sign, the 12th and last in the Chinese Zodiac, are philanthropic, hard-working, generous, and fun-loving–all of which characterize New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s (NJSO) inaugural celebration of Chinese culture and the beautiful pairing it makes with classical music.
The Chinese New Year Celebration February 2, 2019 was truly something to remember. The main lobby of Prudential Hall was resplendent in red and gold, very auspicious celebratory colors, and artisans were at work showing the arts of paper cutting, knot tying, and calligraphy. The paper cutters and the knot-isans were giving lessons and the calligraphy line was around the lobby in a very short time. I treasure my bold black Double Happiness symbol I selected, representing my twin sister and me, on its vibrant and delicate red and gold paper. My companion selected “Peace,” while other patrons wanted “Good Luck” and couples selected their names.
There was a small stage with performances by percussionists, vocalists, stringed instruments, and a select chorus of children ranging from itty-bitty to tween. Before they went on, one chorister was playing with her little sister, age one, whom I fully expect to see join the chorus once she can speak! When NJSO was making plans for this chorus, they had over 400 applicants for only 100 spots. Hot competition, to be sure!
The program was a powerful 80 minute continuous joy with our host Elena Kampouris, an energetic flaxen-haired blonde, who was superbly fluent in Mandarin and English, providing excellent transitions, background, and entertainment, and moving among languages as you and I look to and fro. She had been one of the vocalists in the lobby and her love for this culture flowed abundantly. Between her enthusiasm and the beaming Music Director Xian Zhang, in whose honor an anonymous donation helped make this celebration possible, it was already an evening to remember. Ah, and the music!
Starting with Li Huanzhi, the New Jersey Premiere of the “Spring Festival Overture,” we were ready for a musical adventure! Joyous and evocative, it set the scene for what was to come with broad open chords speaking of rolling hills and the great outdoors! Followed by Tan Dun’s “The Triple Resurrection,” for Violin, Cello and Piano, in another New Jersey Premiere, we were treated to Concertmaster Eric Wyrick on violin, principal cellist Jonathan Spitz, and the dynamic Min Kwon, as soloists in this piece, which includes orchestral accents and a surprise percussion instrument–water! As a fan of his “Earth Concerto” and “Water Concerto,” I was thrilled with the fluid percussion and, among the lyric violin passages, the human voice of the cello, and the dazzling arpeggiated piano, we have first acceleration, then entropy–it’s heartbeat and paean in one.
Featured with the orchestra were the Peking University Alumni Choir and the New York Festival Singers, who thrilled us with Giuseppe Verdi’s Anvil Chorus, from “Il Trovatore,” and then the brilliant Ludwig van Beethoven Choral Fantasy, where Min Kwon’s playing was fire and sunlight, in this work where the sharp will hear the nascent Ninth Symphony themes flirting with our minds’ ear. Kwon’s silken scintillating melismatic passages were flowing like the silken hangings in the lobby and when the soloists, sopranos Fangtao Jiang and Mengxin Zhang, mezzo-soprano Wan Zhao, tenors Gequn Wang and Scott Shi, and bass Jaijun Hong, joined with the chorus, we had pure celestial delight.
Dancers from Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company added further grace and beauty to Giacomo Puccini’s “Humming Chorus,” from “Madama Butterfly,” with breathtaking lightness and when the Starry Arts Group Children’s Chorus returned, under the direction of the remarkable Rebecca Shen, they processed from the back of the auditorium through the aisles, boys in white satin vests and pants with red shirts, girls with white blouses embellished with grace notes of red, with red tulle skirts, singing Puccini’s “Jasmine Chorus,” from “Turandot.” On Nicholas Hersh’ arrangement of a traditional “Farewell,” based on folk song, the Starry Arts Group joined with the orchestra and with the adult singers singing along. Then the audience got into the act in a show of community and love. What an evening to remember, and you’ll want to join me next year when the beauty builds even greater joy.
Happy New Year of the Mother Earth Pig! Remember, the NJSO season is still in full effect! www.njsymphony.org