Woolsey Hall kicked off Chinese New Year celebrations with a marriage of the East and West.
The Qingdao Symphony Orchestra performed a concert Saturday in Woolsey Hall — part of their Image China concert series — to commemorate the Lunar New Year, featuring performances by Chinese pipa and piano virtuosos and conductor Yongyan Hu.
With a repertoire sampling both American and Chinese music, the concert began with George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” a pipa concerto featuring Zhang Hongyan, the Yellow River concerto with pianist and composer Chengzong Yin, and the Symphonic Suites from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” The concert concluded with the “Spring Festival Overture” by Huanzhi Li, a piece traditionally played during the New Year.
“We … recognize that [Chinese New Year] is every bit as important to the Chinese as the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays are to us,” said Steve McIntosh, tour manager of the QSO.
This concert was just one of five concerts the Qingdao Symphony Orchestra has scheduled in the United States. Their tour, which made its debut Jan. 22 and ends Feb. 2, includes venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. But this performance at Yale holds special significance as Hu, the conductor, attended the School of Music in 1987 before following his mentor Otto-Werner Mueller to The Juilliard School. He now teaches at and conducts with the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.
After the concert, Hu paid his respects to Yale and to Mueller.
“My time here was special, but I do remember the stage being bigger,” joked Hu, looking back at a stage packed to the brim with the 90 members of the QSO.
This display of affection for the University was a poignant moment of the concert for Vincent Oneppo, press director for the Yale School of Music.
“I was so touched because the conductor spoke of his experiences of being a student here 20 years ago,” Oneppo said.
The concert attracted about 1,100 people, including many Chinese families in traditional dress, who came to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The programs, which contained Chinese translations next to the English writing, illustrated the relevance of China’s most celebrated holiday.
“There are no European pieces on the repertoire. Everything is American or Chinese,” said Oneppo.
Oneppo went on to explain that the Chinese pieces — a pipa concerto and the famed Yellow River piano concerto — were both traditionally revered pieces in China.
Often called the “Chinese lute,” the pipa is an ancient instrument whose roots stem back to the early centuries of China.
“Seeing the pipa being performed was a really unique experience because it was such an interesting and ancient instrument,” Megan Altizer ’12 said.
But the showcase presentation of the night was the Yellow River piano concerto, co-composed by Yin Chongzong and Chu Wanghua during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The piece is based off the “Yellow River Cantata,” which was composed by Xian Xinghai during the Sino-Japanese War, and uses the Yellow River as a symbol of defiance against Japanese invaders.
Yin performed the piece in person on Saturday, earning calls for three encores — during which he performed his own compositions.
“Based on the fact that Yin is the composer of this piece, and that he is considered the No. 1 pianist in China, makes his performance of this piano concerto a really big deal,” said McIntosh.
This will be the last time that Yin will be performing in this QSO tour; Van Cliburn finalist Sa Chen will be continuing the tour in his place.
The QSO will continue its Image China tour Friday night at Wilkins Theatre in Union, N.J.