Chinese New Year Concert: January 28, 2017 cover

Chinese New Year Concert: January 28, 2017


Celebrate the Lunar New Year with Pacific Symphony and usher in the Year of the Rooster with music and dance. The program includes the popular Spring Festival Overture by Li Huanzhi, the traditional "Jasmine Flower" and the delightful Butterfly Lovers Concerto with George Gao on erhu. The evening culminates in the inspirational "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, when Pacific Chorale is joined by the American Feel Young Chorus.
Program includes:
LI HUANZHI: Spring Festival Overture
BACH: Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3
VARIOUS: New Year's Medley
HUA WU: Deep Into the Night
HE ZHANHAO & CHEN GANG: Butterfly Lovers Concerto
HANS ZIMMER & JOHN POWELL: Music from Kung Fu Panda 2
TRADITIONAL: Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower)
BEETHOVEN: Finale from Symphony No. 9, "Choral"
This is the first in a series of NoteStreams on this performance. You'll be automatically linked to the next at the end.
To learn more about tonight's Guest Artists, please click here.
To learn more about the Pacific Chorale, please click here.
To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, click here.

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Chinese New Year Concert: January 28, 2017




Li Huanzhi

Spring Festival Overture

Awakened Blessing Lion Dance Troupe

Yaya Dance Academy; Yaya Zhang, choreographer

Johann Sebastian Bach

Born to Fly (Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major)

Two Worlds – Jill and Amnon Damti

Chinese New Year Medley:

Hong Yi: Farewell

Lu Qiming: Red Flag

Zheng Qiufeng: I Love You, China

Jessica Zhu, Gloria Xiong, Orson Van Gay II

Hua Wu

Deep Into the Night

George Gao*

Yaya Dance Academy; Ruirui Tong and Yaya Zhang, choreographers

He Zhanhao & Chen Gang

Butterfly Lovers Concerto

Falling in Love – Refusing to Marry - Metamorphosis

George Gao

UCI Dance; Tong Wang, choreographer


Hans Zimmer & John Powell

Kung Fu Girls (Music from Kung Fu Panda 2)

Yaya Dance Academy; Yaya Zhang and Michael Tomlin III, choreographers

Claude Debussy, Arr. Lucien Cailliet

Clair de Lune from Suite Bergamasque

UCI Dance; Yaya Zhang, choreographer

Traditional, Arr. Joshua Roach

Jasmine Flower

American Feel Young Chorus Pacific Chorale

Ludwig van Beethoven

Finale from Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, "Choral"

Presto - Allegro assai - Allegro assai vivace

Ariana Strahl, soprano

Christina Pezzarossi, mezzo-soprano

Enrico Lagasca, bass-baritone

American Feel Young Chorus

Pacific Chorale

Tenor not yet determined at press time

This concert is generously underwritten by Charles and Ling Zhang.




Auspicious Beginnings: A Medley to Greet the New Year with Music and Dance

You don't have to be Chinese to find beauty and meaning in the pageantry of the Chinese New Year. A 15-day celebration that begins with the appearance—or rather, the non-appearance—of the new moon, the Chinese New Year is vividly spectacular, but also has moments of quiet poetry and reflection. It is a time of contrasts that gets the year off to an auspicious start.

While 15 days might seem like a long time to sustain a celebration, the festival is actually a multi-faceted event spanning many special moments. One of these is familiar to everyone lucky enough to live in a city where the flamboyant Dragon Parade takes place.

Phillip Maguire / Shutterstock

Friends and neighbors from all over town gather to witness the fantastically colorful, loud, winding procession as the dancing dragon—actually a jointed construction borne along in caterpillar fashion by concealed dancers—makes its way through the streets. More than just entertainment, the parade represents the dragon's grace and strength, qualities we hope to learn by example for the coming year.

In a time when we strive to value and celebrate diversity, the Dragon Parade has helped us meet and learn about each other. But other elements of the Chinese New Year are quieter, more contemplative and family-oriented.

This spirit is embodied in the shorter musical excerpts and songs with which we greet the Chinese New Year. Their stories honor relatives, friends, ancestors and cultural heritage in song as they propitiate our aspirations for the months to come.

In today's musical festivities, some of the compositions we'll hear are spiced with a modern Western vernacular, while others are rooted in Chinese traditions that go back centuries. For those of us less familiar with classical Chinese music, its expressiveness is especially fascinating.

It focuses on the sound of individual notes as they begin, bloom and fade, more than on melodic resolution. For experienced listeners, even the material of a Chinese musical instrument—any of seven categories including wood, stone, clay, gourd, bamboo, silk and hide—says something about the meaning of the music played on it.

Butterfly Lovers Concerto

He Zhanhou (b. 1933) and Chen Gang (b. 1935)


In what is surely one of the most poetically titled of all orchestral narratives, the Butterfly Lovers Concerto tells the story not of butterfly fanciers, but of two lovers who are transfigured into butterflies.

Their tale is often described as “the Chinese Romeo and Juliet,” but it also contains elements resembling I.B. Singer's folk- tinged tale of Yentl the yeshiva student, and Barbra Streisand’s movie of that name. It is one of the most famous works of Chinese music and one of the most widely performed outside China.

The Butterfly Lovers Concerto depicts an exquisite legend set in eastern China during the ancient Jin dynasty.

Its heroine is the beautiful, intelligent Zhu Yingtai, the only daughter among nine children in a wealthy family, who persuades her father to allow her to attend classes disguised as a boy, since girls’ attendance at school is all but forbidden. In the course of her studies, she falls in love with the other star pupil in her class, Liang Shanbo. Liang shares friendship with Zhu, but his scholarly dedication prevents him from noticing the signs of her femininity and the true nature of her feelings.

Though Zhu is a brilliant student, her father eventually sends an urgent request for her to come home. Liang accompanies his “sworn brother” for 18 miles of the return journey as an act of friendship.

Months later, after missed opportunities and innocent misunderstandings, he discovers that she is a woman and that he loves her—just as she loves him. They finally swear their mutual devotion, only to learn that Zhu’s parents have arranged her engagement to a wealthy aristocrat. Liang and Zhu’s romantic odyssey reaches its apotheosis after the heartbroken Liang has taken ill and died.

On the day she is to be married to another man, mysterious whirlwinds prevent Zhu’s wedding procession from progressing beyond Liang’s grave. As Zhu leaves the procession to pay her respects to Liang, a thunderbolt rends the grave open and Zhu throws herself into it to join her beloved.

Forever reunited, their spirits ascend together as a pair of butterflies.

The composers Chen Gang and He Zhanhao collaborated on the Butterfly Lovers Concerto in 1959, when they were students at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music during a time when Western music was revered in China as the basis for any kind of serious music.

The success of its premiere brought instant fame to the two composers. But only five years later their concerto became a casualty of the Cultural Revolution, which labeled it as Western and a decadent subversion of Chinese values. It regained acceptance in the 1970s as cultural restrictions eased, and became the most performed concerto in China, eventually earning an international reputation.

What to Listen For

Chen Gang and He Zhanhao pursued a Chinese nationalist style using folk music mixed with Western classical forms much like the familiar European nationalist composers they studied at the conservatory. By original design, the instrumentation was entirely Western, employing a solo violin featured over the orchestra.

To capture the folk idiom of their native land, the solo violin was written to imitate the erhu, a two-stringed fiddle, which is often called the “Chinese violin.” In 1988 Gang rearranged the concerto for the erhu, and it is now often performed on the traditional instrument as well. It is this revised version that we hear soloist George Gao on the erhu.

As you listen to George Gao's artistry, take note of the unique sounds of the jinghu and the erhu, characterized by extreme vibrato and pitch bending due to the lack of a fingerboard—unlike a violin, on which the strings are stopped against the neck of the instrument.

As the concerto opens we hear a beautiful melody introduced by the flute. Soon the lovers’ voices are heard—the soloist representing Zhu (it is, after all, her story) and the cello, a principal secondary voice, representing Liang. Combining ethereally poetic feeling with an abundance of romantic incident, the Butterfly Lovers Concerto is not structured as a typical concerto, but as a single movement with a narrative that uses formal techniques of melodic development to define the events in a twisting tale of tragic love.

Its beauty enables the music to stand on its own. But for many Chinese listeners and admirers of Chinese culture, the details of Liang’s and Zhu’s story are fixed in tradition; for these listeners, the concerto references specific plot points in a recognizable way, drawing from the Chinese opera based on this story and from related folk songs.

But even without knowledge of these sources, we can enjoy the Butterfly Lovers Concerto as musical storytelling in the same way we can appreciate the beauty of a narrative painting on a scroll as it unfolds. The composition makes extensive use of the traditional Chinese pentatonic scale and chord patterns, combining them with Western Classical development.

Clair de Lune" from Suite Bergamasque

Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918)

arr. lucien cailliet (1891 - 1985)


With his compatriot Ravel, Claude Debussy is considered the father of Impressionism in music. The dates are certainly right; Debussy was born in 1862, and Impressionism in painting began to take shape in the 1870s. But what does Impressionism in music mean?

In painting we can see how the fleeting impression is captured, how light and air fill the canvas rather than an arrangement of solid objects. By now we are comfortable viewing the paintings of Renoir, Monet and their colleagues, and their works have gained such widespread popularity that we must remind ourselves how Impressionist paintings shocked the eye back in the 1870s: The colors seemed strangely bright, the shadowy neutrals were gone, and the paintings rendered impressions of light rather than the world of objects in space. Yet somehow that world materializes before us as we simply relax and look.

Though Debussy edged away from traditional major and minor keys, he did not eliminate traditional tonal centers, but “blurred” them.

Employing exotic harmonies and the “perfect” scale comprised only of whole steps—with only seven integral notes in play, we can’t even use the term “octave”—Debussy’s music accustoms us to tonal evocations of mood and atmosphere that function as light does in Impressionist paintings. His instrumental color, texture and meandering harmonies ignore traditional combinations. Where Impressionist paintings leave the world of objects behind, Impressionist music goes beyond earlier conventions of harmonic and rhythmic development, moving from one bar to the next in a spontaneous, organic flow.

That said, Impressionist music continues to challenge us as listeners a bit more than Impressionist painting does. If we are less comfortable with Debussy and Ravel than with Renoir and Monet, that may not be such a bad thing; as the art critic Sister Wendy Beckett reminds us, the trick is to come to each work of art as something new, approaching it with courage and without preconceptions, opening ourselves to the experience it offers.

Debussy started work on the Suite Bergamasque around 1890. It is a piano suite of four movements, of which the third—“Clair de Lune”— is by far the most popular and most often programmed.

What to Listen For

Though music dictionaries trace the term “bergamasque” to rustic dances from the Italian town of Bergamo, the sound of “Clair de Lune” is anything but rustic. Its sound is elegant and luminous.

Moonlight has been an irresistible subject for composers, and this movement is one of its most famous evocations—along with Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata for piano and the melody from Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto which, became the pop song “Full Moon and Empty Arms.”

What we hear in these four beautiful minutes seems to suspend time and movement—hardly the stuff of dance. It remains rooted in its opening key of D-flat major, budging only for an unexpected modulation into E major—distant in harmonic terms, but very close on the scale.

If you haven’t yet heard “Clair de Lune” in the concert hall or on recording, you may have heard it at the movies—in films such as Giant (1956), Casino Royale (1967) and Ocean's Eleven (2001).

Finale from Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, Choral

Ludwig Van Beethovan (1770 - 1827)


Is Beethoven's Ninth the most popular piece of classical music in the world? Is it the single work of art that breaks every rule of American culture, bringing the rarefied strains of High Art into our everyday lives? No fudging here; the answer is yes. Proving its "most popular" status with numbers may well be impossible, but the claim is so often repeated that it has established a life of its own.

This symphony occupies a unique place in the world of art and in the popular imagination.

This widespread acceptance has kept the Ninth fresh. This symphony has continuing relevance for all listeners, not just classical music fans, as a universal celebration of freedom, and as a bridge between pop culture and the highbrow stuff.

The breakthrough fourth movement takes a form that no composer had ever before imagined, a symphonic chorale with full chorus and soloists, that sets Friedrich Schiller's ecstatic Ode to Joy; but this movement is the culmination of a meditation on human freedom that spans the entire symphony. Small wonder that in the most populist and all-American of art forms, Charles Schultz's Schroeder idolizes Beethoven above all other composers in the comic strip Peanuts.

Contrary to most Beethoven mythology, the symphony's premiere on May 7, 1824, was fully appreciated by its audience. Reports of listeners' enthusiasm for the bold new work suggest that on that historic Friday evening, with nearly a thousand in attendance, there was a collective understanding of their profound, shared experience, with Beethoven fully acknowledged by the cheering crowd.

What to Listen For

Beethoven's idea of including the voice in a symphony also dates from this period, but may not originally have attached to the Ninth. In a sketchbook dated 1811 he envisions a cantata combining choral and instrumental movements based on the Ode.

The Beethoven biographer Alexander Thayer describes how, in 1822, while visiting a music critic in Leipzig, the composer described plans for a tenth symphony that would include vocal elements that would "enter gradually—in the text of the Adagio Greek Myth, Cantique Ecclesiastique—in Allegro, the feast of Bacchus."

During these years Beethoven was working on the first three movements of the Symphony No. 9, drawing on ideas in his sketchbooks, and his plans for the symphony were purely instrumental. In 1823 he finally integrated the three critical elements that became Beethoven's Ninth: a primarily instrumental symphony, the introduction of vocal elements, and a fourth movement incorporating Schiller's Ode to Joy.

But how could a fourth movement with chorus and vocal soloists fit naturally into a symphony whose first three movements were purely instrumental? The Beethoven scholar Leon Plantinga describes the dramatic moment in October of 1823 when Beethoven solved this problem, recounted by the composer's friend Anton Schindler:

On day he burst into the room and shouted at me: "I got it! I have it!" He held his sketchbook out to me so that I could read: "Let us sing the song of the immortal Schiller"; then a solo voice began the hymn of joy.

With some revisions, the simple words "Let us sing the song of the immortal Schiller" became the basis for Beethoven's introduction to the Symphony's fourth movement, solving monumental task of integrating the choral elements into the rest of the work. He later revised this line and added a phrase, "not with these tones," a dramatically effective interruption of the movement's furiously chaotic opening bars, which seem to depict humankind's pointless conflict and striving; these resolve into clarity and light.

Michael Clive is a cultural reporter living in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. He is program annotator for Pacific Symphony and Louisiana Philharmonic, and editor-in- chief for The Santa Fe Opera.

To learn more about tonight's Guest Artists, please click here.

To learn more about the Pacific Chorale, please click here.

To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, click here.