A Chinese New Year Celebration: “The Year of the Horse”

A Chinese New Year Celebration: “The Year of the Horse”

A Chinese New Year Celebration: “The Year of the Horse”
New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center; February 1, 2014
Long Yu, conductor; Yuja Wang, piano;Cho-Liang Lin, violin;
Jian Wang, cello (New York Philharmonic debut)
Song Zuying, vocalist (New York Philharmonic debut)

There were no indications that this was a special Chinese New Year Concert except for two huge golden balloons of beautiful horses  placed on a ledge outside the hall and visible from both inside and outside. This–among other things this evening–was very tastefully done.

Cho-Liang Lin, violin

Cho-Liang Lin, violin; Long Yu conducts the New York Philharmonic in a Chinese New Year celebration at Avery Fisher Hall, 2/1/14. Photo by Chris Lee

The Concert opened with “The Triple Resurrection” for Violin, Violoncello, Piano and Orchestra (2013) by Tan Dun of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” fame. It is a one-movement work with no tempo indication and is a salute to Wagner’s Ring Cycle. It didn’t hold together very well and appeared to be an eclectic mix of sounds and styles. For sure, it wasn’t Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, which is undoubtedly a masterpiece. Yet Dun’s work did utilize all the program’s soloists (except the singer), and this was a great way to tie the musicians together. After this collaboration, Yuja Wang–who is fast becoming a star–performed solo. The problem here–in a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Variations–was one of balance, as there were times when Wang was completely inaudible. Yet when I heard her in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with another orchestra in another hall, I heard every note! Was she tired here? Was the orchestra just too overpowering? Hard to say. When she was audible–mostly in the quiet, lyrical sections or high up on the keyboard where her magnificent fingers shined through with incredible clarity and scintillating playing–there were gorgeous moments that made one’s heart melt.

Song Zuying, vocalist

Song Zuying, vocalist & Long Yu conducts the New York Philharmonic in a Chinese New Year celebration at Avery Fisher Hall, 2/1/14. Photo by Chris Lee

The Chinese conductor, Long Yu, holds many posts in his native land, where he is chief conductor of the China Philharmonic Orchestra which he co-founded in 2000, and music director of the Shanghai and Guangzhou symphony orchestras. Mr.Yu played a leading role in creating the Shanghai Orchestral Academy as a partnership between the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, the Shanghai Conservatory and the New York Philharmonic. Maestro Yu has commissioned many works from well-known composers–both Western and Chinese–as well as appearing with the world’s leading orchestras and opera companies.  His conducting was very confident, solid and professional.


After Intermission, we heard “Spring Festival Overture” by Li Huanzhi, composed in 1955-56, which opened the “China in New York Festival” in January of 2012 and was conducted by Maestro Yu. It is rather old-fashioned and Romantic, sounding like the music of Antonin Dvorak. The well-known violinist Cho-Liang Lin, born in Taiwan, did in fact perform the music of Dvorak: the lovely and subdued Romance for Violin and Orchestra in F minor, Op.11 (1873/77). Lin is a poetic, mature artist who lives up to his superb reputation. A wonderful surprise was the cellist Jian Wang (no relation to Juja Wang), who was brilliant, extremely musical, and sensitive in the “Variations on a Rococo Theme” for Cello and Orchestra, Op.33 (1876).  Wang has a gorgeous sound. It isn’t surprising to read that while a young student at the Shanghai Conservatory, he was featured in the documentary film “From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China”. Stern promptly selected him out of a large group of young musicians and got the support for him to study with the great teacher and cellist Aldo Parisot at the Yale School of Music.

Last on the program was vocalist Song Zuying . Wearing traditional dress, she sang Chinese folksongs which were well orchestrated and extremely well received–especially by the Chinese members of the audience, who understand this type of high-pitched nasal singing. She was clearly a big hit, and the orchestra had an encore ready for her, which was happily performed and applauded. I think if overtime had been allowed, each soloist could have given encores! It was a revealing concert that showed an important musical evolution: how Chinese artists have become solid interpreters of western music. I look forward to the Philharmonic’s next Chinese New Year Concert!



Lang Lang, Superstar, Shows Why at Carnegie Hall

by Howard Aibel, President of New York Concert Review

Lang Lang

Lang Lang gave a phenomenal concert at Carnegie Hall, broadcast live on WQXR on May 29th, 2012. He is without a doubt the most famous pianist in the world, continuing to perform to sold out houses in every city he plays. In 2009, he appeared in Time Magazine’s annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. The Year before, more than four billion people saw his performance during the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games, inspiring over 40 million Chinese children to learn to play classical music on the piano. He just received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the Manhattan School of Music in recognition of his extraordinary accomplishments as a musician, educator, and musical ambassador to the world. Lang Lang may very well be the most popular classical musician on the globe, and it isn’t difficult to see why. There was an excitement in the air before the concert began, with a sold out house, including some 120 stage seats. Thankfully, the live broadcast on WQXR is still available by typing in WQXR.org Lang Lang. This was the first time he was performing Bach in Carnegie Hall, and there were video cameras and microphones surrounding the stage; talk about pressure! Yet he played comfortably and intimately, as if in his living room. Oddly, the only noticeable minor slips were in the Gigue of the Bach Partita, where the left hand crosses over the right in a fast tempo. In the slow Sarabande, Lang Lang used rubato to be expressive, but in Baroque music he needs to do this while playing in time, which he did in all the other movements. Still, his playing was much more natural than the Bach of Glenn Gould, who was considered the greatest “Bach Specialist”.

Next on the program was the last sonata of Schubert, written in the year of his death, 1828.   Interestingly, it is in the same key as the Bach Partita (B-flat Major), and it also presents itself with a quiet simplicity. His performance was filled with an abundance of colors, as he has tremendous control over the piano. He defines the epitome of technique: the ability to do anything you want at the instrument. He can play incredibly softly, yet his sound still carries to the last row in the hall. Of course, nobody can please everybody; that was the case with Glenn Gould, Leonard Bernstein, and Daniel Barenboim, but Lang Lang comes close to pleasing most audiences at only 29 years of age. His newfound demeanor has changed his concert attire, his repertoire, and his maturity. That is not to say he doesn’t have to develop more; he still could play with more simplicity and let the music speak for itself. Gary Graffman was Lang Lang’s teacher at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia from the time he was 14 until 19. Mr. Graffman said that Lang Lang sent a DVD performance of all 24 Chopin Etudes when he was 13 or 14 years old! At this Carnegie performance, the Etude in Thirds was so stupendous that it elicited bravos from the audience, which then broke into consistently boisterous applause, which gave him a moment to wipe his brow. He quickly continued with the difficult “Winter Wind Etude”, which was indeed fabulous. As if to prevent more applause, he dove into the last etude, the “Ocean”.

At the conclusion, the audience went wild, jumping to their feet screaming “Bravo!” The first of the two Liszt encores was a Romance in E Minor, which was lovingly performed, and it was followed by “La Campanella,” which was nothing short of stupendous. He could have gone on and on, but the house lights went up, signaling that it was the end to one of the best recitals I have ever heard.