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Debut performance of Chinese orchestra wows UN diplomats

By KONG WENZHENG and ZHANG RUINAN In New York | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2019-02-09 16:40
The Suzhou Symphony Orchestra performs in the General Assembly Hall at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Feb 8. [Photo/Xinhua]

A Chinese symphony orchestra presented a celebratory concert at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Feb 8, marking the first time diplomats at UN celebrated Chinese New Year by attending such an event.

To help delegates from around the world share in the joy of Spring Festival, the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra from East China's Jiangsu province brought both traditional Chinese musical pieces and Western classics to the General Assembly Hall of the UN.

"We thought thoroughly about the song selection for today's performance," said Chen Xieyang, the conductor and music director of the orchestra.

"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 reflects the landscape of Dunhuang."

For some UN diplomats, it might be their first time to hear traditional Chinese musical works like Fantasy for Erhu and Orchestra and Horse Race, Chen said, adding the orchestra will also perform some Western pieces including Frühlingsstimmen Waltz by J Strauss, Bizet's L'Arlésienne Suite No 2 and the fourth movement from Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 4.

Traditional Chinese instruments like the erhu joined Western ones to enhance the idea of cultural exchanges while putting the spotlight on Chinese traditions, said Chen Guangxian, general manager of the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra.

"They fit together extremely well," said Tavis, an audience member from New York who commented on the combination of Chinese and Western instruments.

"The sounds blended and they moved from one to the other -- it was completely seamless. It was done very nicely," he said.

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

"I especially like the soloist of the erhu. I have never seen that before, and it was amazing" to make all the sounds with few strings, said Dodson.

Invited by the Permanent Mission of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations to conduct the first-ever Chinese New Year Concert at UN headquarters, the orchestra looks to both build the image of Suzhou as a city rich in culture and further spread Chinese culture around 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 Xieyang. "It has a 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 opening remarks for the event.

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

This is the orchestra's first trip to the US. Chen Xieyang said he thinks the 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 young orchestra with an average age of 30 has 70 musicians from more than 30 countries and regions. It has toured multiple countries in Europe and Asia.

"I think the orchestra is a very special one, we can call it a mini-United Nations," said Ma Zhaoxu, the Chinese permanent representative to the United Nations, regarding the diversity of members.

Audiences from the UN could feel the charm of Chinese culture and the joy of Spring Festival not only by enjoying the music concert but also while walking through an exhibition put together by iSuzhou, a cultural exchange platform established by the city.

The exhibition showcases signature Spring Festival-themed artworks. These include Taohuawu Woodcut New Year Pictures, products of a distinct printing technique that dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644); the key elements of the 24 solar terms; and holiday must-haves such as couplets, red envelopes and "Fu" characters.

"As diplomats in a multilateral setting here, our goal is not so different from the expectations that each new year brings -- to make the world more peaceful, more secure, more prosperous, and to leave no one behind," said Espinosa Garcés.

"[I'd like to express] my deep appreciation to China for bringing the spirit of the New Year through the Spring Festival to the heart of the United Nations," she added.

"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," said Dodson, "very lighthearted. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening."

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