Chinese New Year - Program Notes cover

Chinese New Year - Program Notes


Join us for Pacific Symphony's annual festivities honoring the Chinese New Year! Celebrating the Year of the Dog, this performance is sure to sell out once again as audiences from across our communities come together to feast on a colorful presentation of Eastern and Western music and dance.
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Carl St.Clair, conductor
Pacific Symphony
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Chinese New Year - Program Notes






Huanzhi Li

Spring Festival Overture

Yaya Dance Academy

Tan Dun

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Eternal Vow

Emma Lee

Wo Huan (arr. Schnyder)

Dance of Joy

Min Xiao-Fen, Yaya Dance Academy

Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne and Cong Su

Theme from The Last Emperor

Min Xiao-Fen

Bei Bei He (arr. Thomas)

Tiger’s Heart

Bei Bei He

Arr. Dunford

Magic Mirror

Emma Lee, Yaya Dance Academy

Christoph Willibald Gluck

O Del Mio Dolce Ardor

Guang Yang

Richard Strauss

Zueignung (Devotion), TrV 141, Op. 10, No. 1

Guang Yang

Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67

Allegro con brio


Xian Xinghai

Yellow River Concerto/Cantata

The Song of the Yellow River Boatman

Ode to the Yellow River

The Yellow River in Anger

Defend the Yellow River

Fei-Fei Dong, America Feel Young Chorus, Pacific Chorale

Leonard Bernstein

Candide: Make Our Garden Grow

Chelsea Chaves, Nicholas Preston,

America Feel Young Chorus, Pacific Chorale


Love My China

Mai Sui, America Feel Young Chorus,

Pacific Chorale

Samuel Ward (arr. Prechel)

America the Beautiful

America Feel Young Chorus, Pacific Chorale

This concert is generously sponsored by Charles and Ling Zhang.

Looking Ahead, Listening Joyfully: Greeting The Chinese New Year

Philosophical and richly poetic, the Chinese zodiac offers cues for the New Year. This year, celebrants are looking hopefully to the year of the Earth Dog, a time for creative renewal but also for serious introspection. Fortunately, we can enjoy the beauty and exuberance of the Chinese New Year without understanding the complexities surrounding its ancient lunar calendar.

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.

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.

Appropriately, we greet the New Year with compositions ancient, modern and in-between—Western and Chinese—with a remembrance of Leonard Bernstein, our cherished musical uncle, whose centennial is marked in 2018. For those of us less familiar with the traditions of 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.

China watercolours from 1800s.

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.

Happy New Year!

Echoes of Asia, Ancient and Modern

Spring Festival Overture

HUANZHI LI (1919–2000)

Huanzhi Li, a major figure in Chinese music of the 20th century, composed more than 400 works that have achieved popularity throughout China and are of growing appeal to Western listeners. He was also active as a conductor and music educator, and remained productive despite struggles with deafness and cancer.

Honored posthumously by the National Museum of China for his contributions to Chinese culture, Li is the composer of the Chinese anthem “The East Is Red.” His Spring Festival Overture was one of 30 musical selections launched into space on China’s first lunar probe satellite.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Eternal Vow

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Eternal Vow

TAN DUN (B. 1957)

Tan Dun was already a revered composer when his soundtrack for the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” made him a worldwide celebrity. His work, which frequently combines unabashedly populist lyricism with experimental harmonies and textures, defies easy description. But it’s fair to say while listening to the music of Tan Dun, time seems to stop and new worlds open. He is one of the few living composers to have had an opera commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. The song “Eternal Vow” is one of the most popular and frequently covered excerpts from his award-winning score for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

The Last Emperor: Theme


Japanese rather than Chinese by birth, the composer Ryuichi Sakamoto works in a musical vernacular that could be described as “global” rather than “Asian.”

It has made him, in the words of The New York Times, “the most popular Japanese musician in the West.” That would include the West Village neighborhood of New York City, where he lives. In addition to his remarkable score for “The Last Emperor”—for which he won an Oscar—Sakamoto composed the soundtrack for the 2015 film “The Revenant.”

Tiger’s Heart

BEI BEI HE (B. 1983 )

The classically trained musician Bei Bei He is one of the world’s foremost players of the guzheng, often called the “Chinese zither.” Born in Chengdu, China, she began playing the guzheng at age 7 and immediately felt called to a musical career. She pursued guzheng studies at the Central University of Nationalities in Beijing and at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

But despite her classical training and mastery of traditional techniques, listeners to her compositions should be ready for anything—as suggested by titles such as “Year of the Funky,” “Bossa Rossa” and “Purple River.”

Yellow River Concerto

Yellow River Concerto

XIAN XINGHAI (1905–1945)

Xian Xinghai was one of the first Chinese composers to incorporate Western influences in his music. Although he composed in all major musical forms (two symphonies, a violin concerto, four large-scale choral works, nearly 300 songs and an opera), he is best known for his Yellow River Cantata, upon which the Yellow River Concerto for piano and orchestra is based. Xian began his musical studies at the YMCA charity school attached to the Lingnan University in Guangzhou. In 1926 he joined the National Music Institute at Peking University, and in 1928 he entered Shanghai National Music Conservatory. In 1934 he became the first Chinese student admitted to the Paris Conservatory, where he studied with the French composers Vincent D’Indy and Paul Dukas.

“O Del Mio Dolce Ardor”


Born 42 years before Mozart in the early Classical period, Gluck was a reform-minded composer who purified operatic style, clearing away thickets of Baroque ornamentation to reveal more direct emotional expression in music.

The austere beauty of Gluck’s arias poses special challenges for vocalists because—in the musicianly phrase— ”there’s no place to hide:” The singing must be pristinely beautiful and sincerely expressed.

Zueignung (Devotion)


Richard Strauss was the foremost composer of German-language operas and art songs of the 20th century.

In this song, drawn from the first collection of songs he published, we find him at the beginnings of his composing career and already showing the qualities that make his vocal music a joy to sing and to hear: soaring lines and an unequalled feeling for the beauties of the female voice.

Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67


Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones; percussion; strings


Beethoven the optimist? The idealist? The harbinger of hope for the New Year? We’re more accustomed to thinking of him as the dark, brooding composer who snarled at visitors and agonized over his compositions. But at a time of renewal and hope, consider this: no composer remained more ardently committed to the ideals of freedom and the greatness of the human spirit than Beethoven.

Like so many of his greatest compositions, the Symphony No. 5 can be heard as beginning in struggle and ending in triumph. What could be more powerfully affirmative in facing the New Year?

The Fifth is one of those iconic works of art that we all seem to know from birth—in particular, those four introductory notes that, conveniently enough, conform to the rhythm of the phrase “Beethoven’s Fifth.” According to musicologist Richard E. Rodda, this is “the most famous beginning in all of classical music.”

Pounded out once and then repeated a whole step down, this motif really does sound like “fate knocking at the door,” a phrase that has stuck to it ever since Beethoven’s students Anton Schindler and Ferdinand Ries circulated the story.

From the first movement, with its remarkable alternation between exclamation and contemplation, we move to a movement marked Andante con moto, built on two themes that Beethoven develops separately; after the tension of the first movement, the second seems spontaneous and almost meandering. But it leads us to a Scherzo— fairly common as a third-movement framework in symphonies, but unusually intense in this one.

Rather than ending conventionally, the symphony builds over thundering timpani to resolve in radiant C major. It ends in this sun-filled key, having transported us from darkness to light.

Rodda, for one, has his doubts about whether this idea really originated with Beethoven. But does it matter?

Scholars agree that this symphony is a landmark in music, combining the refinement and formal perfection of the Classical period with the philosophical and emotional urgency of the Romantic age. Beethoven partisans consider him the colossus who fulfilled the promise of one style while defining the challenges of the next—the father of musical Romanticism.

His Symphony No. 5 probably makes the strongest case for this idea. He wrote it from 1804 through 1808, a period that also gave us the Fourth and Sixth symphonies, his Piano Concerto No. 4, the Violin Concerto in D, and three major piano sonatas.

But not many of his comments regarding the Fifth Symphony survive from these productive years; in one note, he says there ”begins in my head the working-out in breadth, height and depth. Since I am aware of what I want, the fundamental idea never leaves me. It mounts, it grows. I see before my mind the picture in its whole extent, as if in a single grasp.”

To some listeners, this supports the idea that Beethoven built his magnificent four-movement work on four fateful notes.

What to Listen For

This symphony quickly took on the reputation of a maverick work that challenged the conventions of symphonic structure. Even so, the opening movement—which opens so unforgettably with its iconic motif, a rhyming pair of four-note bars—is developed in sonata allegro form. But from the beginning it startles us, and we know something different from the usual is happening.

Few moments in music have given rise to such controversy and varying interpretations, and the entire movement—indeed, the entire symphony—is based on this aural jolt. It proceeds in the kind of development that listeners grew accustomed to in the symphonies of Haydn and Mozart, taking the theme through a development that modulates through many keys and dynamic patterns to reach its capitulation.

---Symphony No. 5 in C minor "Fate", Op. 67, 1808. | Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel. Live from the Philharmonie, Paris, 2015. Video 33:08

It is the novelty of the theme itself that keeps the movement fresh in its sound, with a sense of portentous drama.


Candide: Make Our Garden Grow

Candide: Make Our Garden Grow


2018 marks the centennial of the birth of Leonard Bernstein—the only composer who could possibly have written the sophisticated, witty, boisterous and ultimately moving opera/operetta/Broadway musical based on Voltaire’s satire Candide. The score is full of hilariously ironic music, but the finale elevates the proceedings with an inspiring chorale. The moral is universal: after adventures that have taken Candide and Cunegonde to the ends of the earth and the extremes of wealth and poverty, they see that the virtues of home and family are the greatest riches of all.

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.

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