by Julia Pierrepont III
Leaping lions, writhing dragons... Is it a fantasy zoo? Game of Thrones? No, it is the Chinese New Year Concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (LA Phil).
After a three-year hiatus due to an over-packed schedule, the LA Phil's Chinese New Year celebration came roaring back Wednesday night with a two-night stint that packed in a predominantly American audience up to the rafters.
Staged in the Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles, the concert featured dazzling lion dancers, a forty-foot dragon that coiled through the aisles, and stirring performances by costumed and bewigged Chinese opera singers, Wang Ying and Zhang Tingfang.
The concert centered around rousing and melodic Chinese and Western classics, such as Li Huanzhi's "The Spring Festival Overture," Camille Saint-Saens' "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso," and the world premiere of an ambitious new piece by Shanghai-born, Pulitzer Prize-winner, Du Yun, a feisty artist who sported a pixie skirt and rainbow-colored nails.
Du has become the first female of color to be nominated the best classical composition for the 61st Grammy Awards with her piece "Air Glow." The 61st Annual Grammy Awards will be held Sunday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Du's performance on Wednesday marked the first time in history that Xinchang Diaoqiang opera, a type of traditional Chinese opera that originated from Zhejiang Province, has been heard by an international audience.
She takes inspiration from Xinchang Diaoqiang opera, an ancient and regional form of Chinese opera, and aims to reimagine the future of Chinese opera in a contemporary context.
One character, an old man, is played by a woman. This prompted Du to make a deeper exploration of gender identity in her piece.
"As a creator, I often wonder about our projected role in our society and our gender roles presented in literature and theatrical works. In today's world, our gender becomes more fluid and laden with complex layers... So, I experimented with giving her back to her female identity," the composer said.
The evening was led by Hong Kong-born conducting phenom Elim Chen, who is widely considered to be one of the most exciting young talents of the new generation of conductors.
She is the first female winner of the prestigious Donatella Flick Conducting Competition and is currently the Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and also the recently appointed chief conductor designate of the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra.
One attendee who initially expressed concern that Chan was too young to lead an orchestra as seasoned as the LA Phil was instead impressed by Chan's commanding style on the podium. "She was dramatic, compelling, tender and balletic," she said, "Like a Tai Chi master."
Electrifying solo violinist Ray Chen, who came to world attention as the First Prize winner of both the Yehudi Menuhin (2008) and Queen Elizabeth (2009) competitions, brings a fresh attitude and virtuosity to classical music.
He dazzled audiences with more classical renditions from the works of Saint-Saens and Ravel, then, in keeping with his unique combination of talent and humor, closed with his own arrangement of a rollicking, yet sophisticated arrangement of the iconic Aussie tune, Waltzing Matilda.
When asked how he liked the unique mix of Chinese and Western music, Chen told Xinhua, "I love it! It's a natural fit. That kind of thing is much more integrated and accepted here in the United States. I grew up in Australia, where they are just starting to get more into it."
"It's such a pleasure to see another side to music, from a culture from the other side of the world," said a local resident, whose given name is Silvie.
"I've always wanted to see a Chinese New Year celebration, and when these tickets became available, I just couldn't miss it," said Louisa, a Cuban matriarch.
Megan Martineau, artistic administrator of the LA Phil, told Xinhua, "The Chinese New Year program was a big priority for us. U.S. audiences are very open to learning about the culture of China and engaging in the celebration of the Lunar New Year as well."