My husband and I had the good fortune of being a part of the audience when the first performance of the orchestra at the National Center for the Performing Arts of Beijing began its North American tour here, in Chicago at Symphony Center. Earlier in the day listening to an interview on WFMT with NCPA’s 50-year-old Shanghai-born Conductor Lu Jia, I learned that the orchestra is very young and dynamic. Although the average age of musicians is 30, they are very skilled, energetic, creative and anxious to learn.
Ren Xiaolong, managing director of the orchestra says, "We are proud that in our first tour to North America, all the concerts will be at the major halls and within their season schedule," Ren says that when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed at the NCPA in February 2013, its president invited the NCPA Orchestra to perform in Chicago. The program, which was varied and uplifting, was enthusiastically greeted with two lengthy standing ovations.
The opening piece was The Five Elements Suite for Orchestra, composed by Chinese composer Qigang Chen. This work was commissioned by Radio France and was first performed on May 21, 1999 by the Orchestre National de France on Radio France. The work is a collection of contrasting movements symbolizing the five elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water), which, according to Chinese tradition, constitute the universe.
This work contains some of the most remarkable sounds I have heard. It encapsulates the Chinese spirit with the use of western instruments. The three parts that caught my attention were “water”, “fire” and “metal”. When listening to “water”, I felt very calm and a though I was near a flowing stream. “Fire” was so intense that I actually shuddered. Listening to “metal”, I imagined images of the framework of a building being hammered into place. It was amazing that so much was conveyed in only ten minutes. Additionally, Qigang Chen is most widely known for his work as Music Director of the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony.
For the next work, the piano was brought up to the center stage on an elevator. Once in place drama heightened as the audience waited for internationally acclaimed pianist Yuja Wang to join the orchestra as soloist for Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. This piece also premiered in Paris, January 14th, 1932 with Maurice Ravel conducting and Marguerite Long, soloist. The orchestra was reduced in size. The interaction of orchestra and piano were perfection and the harp reflecting the piano extended its reach.
Yuja Wang’s playing was phenomenal. Watching her hands, they moved so quickly, that at time they were like a blur, yet she didn’t miss a note. At other times the piano was lyrical, romantic and gentle. Additionally, her bright red dress was a sharp contrast to the subdued black all around.
She was so appreciated, that after a lengthy standing ovation she offered the audience a special treat: YOUMANS arr. Tatum Tea for Two. Playing this piece she seemed relaxed, and it was charming and fun.
A description of the performer includes, “This twenty-seven year old pianist is widely recognized as one of the most important artists of her generation. Regularly lauded for her controlled, prodigious technique, Yuja has been praised for her authority over the most complex technical demands of the repertoire, the depth of her musical insight, as well as her fresh interpretations and charismatic stage presence.” I feel very fortunate to have seen her in action.
Dvořák’s bucolic and intimate Symphony No. 8 completed the program. This symphony is cheerful and lyrical in character and draws inspiration from the Bohemian folk music that Dvořák loved. Though this work was first performed on February 2, 1890 in Prague, it has a special relationship to Chicago. Symphony No. 8 in G Major was well received in Prague, London, Frankfort and Cambridge (where he received and honorary doctor of music in 1891) and then, on August 12, 1893, he conducted the symphony at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Tribune reported that the Chicago performance was capped by “tremendous outbursts of applause”. The wonderful folk rhythms and beautiful melodies were so skillfully captured by China NCPA Orchestra, that once again there were such tremendous outbursts of applause that the audience was rewarded with yet another work by Dvořák, Slavonic Dance in A-flat Major, Op. 46, No.3.
Having thrilled the Chicago audience, the North American Tour continues. The next stop is the Kennedy Center in Washington, Lincoln Center in New York, Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, National Arts Center in Ottawa, the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and wrap up the tour at Masion Symphoique Place des Arts in Montreal on Nov 13.
More information about Symphony Center performances can be found at the Symphony Center website
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Photos: Courtesy of NCPA Orchestra
Watch for “SOUNDS OF CHINA: A Chinese New Year Celebration on Sunday, February 15, 2015 at Symphony Center.
Published on Nov 04, 2014