Daily Bow: Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra Debuts in New York

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 Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra Debuts at Carnegie Hall

When we talk about classical music, we primarily think of the art form coming from the western tradition. But surely music is not just a European phenomenon; it has roots in all cultures, even if they haven’t risen to the same levels of fame as the symphonies of Beethoven or Mozart’s operas. In the global community of the 21st century, however, more musical interaction takes place each year, making the concert hall not just the home of western classical music, but many foreign visitors as well.

This was just the case last Sunday when the Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra debuted at Carnegie Hall. The orchestra, which normally accompanies the famous Shen Yun Chinese dancers, gave its own independent concert, performing a program of traditional American and Chinese music, along with selections from Vivaldi and pieces specially written to evoke for the orchestra that evoke their eastern roots. One example was the piece  Khata for the Gods:

This song opens with a duet for the clarinet and oboe, and whisks listeners to the vast blue sky of the Himalayas. The wind instruments emitted new sounds to convey the unique feeling of Tibetan tunes, while the trombone used an exotic sliding slur to do a stunning imitation of the Tibetan long horn.

The opening of the song set the scene for a ceremony where Tibetans expressed gratitude toward Buddha for a bountiful harvest. It was followed by a series of sixteenth notes from the strings. The strings’ clean, even notes built toward a climax that illustrated the pattering of feet as people gathered for the ceremony.

Hearing programs like this on a stage like Carnegie is a great opportunity for concert goers to sink their teeth into something out of their comfort zone. While still presenting the traditional format of a western philharmonic orchestra and pieces from the western canon like Vivaldi’s double trumpet concert, the audience has familiar component to help them feel comfortable in the concert. At the same time, however, orchestras like the Shen Yun present very different programs, featuring Chinese instruments such as the pipa,suona, dizi, guzhen, and a variety of Chinese percussion instruments. Furthermore, the pieces composed for these this ensemble utilizes these instruments and sounds to their full capacity, giving the listener a cultural experience beyond a mere show of virtuosity. Although this was Shen Yun’s first concert at Carnegie, they’re sure to be back for more, and hopefully with other similar ensembles and works along with it!

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