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 News Classical 11/02/2019

Suzhou Orchestra's US Debut Thrills Audience At UN

Suzhou Orchestra's US Debut Thrills Audience At UN

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New York, NY (Top40 Charts / Suzhou Symphony Orchestra) A Chinese symphony orchestra mixed traditional musical pieces from China with Western ones to the delight of diplomats celebrating Chinese New Year at the United Nations General Assembly Hall.

"We thought thoroughly about the song selection for today's performance," said Chen Xieyang, the conductor and music director of the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra from Jiangsu province. The performance Friday was the orchestra's first trip to the United States.

"We have some representative Chinese songs, including Spring Festival Overture and Jasmine Flower — they are songs with strong Chinese ethnic characteristics," Chen said. "We've also prepared some creative songs like Dunhuang, which shows the landscape of Dunhuang."

For UN diplomats, it might have been their first time listening to pieces such as Fantasy for Erhu and Orchestra and Horse Race, Chen said, adding that the orchestra would also perform some Western pieces, including Frühlingsstimmen Waltz by Strauss, Bizet's L'Arlésienne Suite No. 2 and the 4th movement from Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4.

Traditional Chinese instruments like the erhu (fiddle) blended with Western ones to enhance cultural exchange while spotlighting Chinese traditions, said Chen Guangxian, the orchestra's general manager.

"They fit together extremely well," said Tavis from New York. "The sounds blended and they moved from one to the other — it was completely seamless. It was done very nicely."

"I thought the selection [of music] was great, very diversified," said Shireen Dodson, who works at the UN.

"I especially liked the erhu soloist. I have never seen that before, and it was amazing," she said, impressed by how many sounds the two-stringed instrument could make.

The orchestra — invited by China's Permanent Mission to the UN to conduct the first Chinese New Year Concert at UN headquarters — looked to build on the image of Suzhou as a city rich in culture and to further spread Chinese culture to the world, according to Chen.

"This is the first time we performed for [diplomats of] members at the United Nations, so we feel extremely honored," said Chen. "It has very significant meaning, because if we go on tour to other countries, we can only visit one or two nations per trip, but this time we will be able to perform for delegates from tens of nations."

"As a poet myself, I believe in the power of art in transcending cultures, civilizations and borders. And that is also the nature of our work here in the United Nations," said María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, president of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in an opening remark for the event.

"We also hope the performance would broaden the influence of the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra and bring it further on the global stage," said Chen Guangxian.

Chen Xieyang said he believes symphony is one of the best ways to promote cultural exchanges between the nations because "there's no language barrier in music, and everyone can understand it."

Established in November 2016, the orchestra with an average age of 30 is made up of 70 musicians from more than 30 countries and regions. It has toured multiple countries in Europe and Asia.

Audience members also were treated to an exhibition by iSuzhou, a cultural exchange platform established by the city.

Spring Festival-themed artworks were displayed in the exhibition, including Taohuawu Woodcut New Year Pictures, products of a distinct printing technique that dates to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the key elements of the 24 solar terms, along with antithetical couplets, red envelopes and Chinese character for "fu", meaning fortune or good luck.
"As diplomats in a multilateral setting here, our goal is not so different from the expectations that each new year brings: make the world more peaceful, more secure, more prosperous and leave no one behind," Espinosa Graces said.

She spoke of her "deep appreciation to China for bringing the spirit of the New Year through the Spring Festival to the heart of the United Nations."
"It's tough to celebrate Spring Festival outside of China, because it's such a family festival. But anything that you can do that makes you feel it's around Spring Festival time is good," said Tavis.
"It was celebratory, very light-hearted," said Dodson. "I thoroughly enjoyed the evening."

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