Shirley Young (center), chair of the US-China Cultural Institute; Tang Muhai (second from right), conductor of the Beijing Symphony Orchestra performance; Meng Haidong (second from left), BSO vice-president; Wang Liang (left), principal oboe at the New York Philharmonic; and filmmaker Jason Starr (right) at Washington's Kennedy Center on Monday. YUAN YUAN / FOR CHINA DAILY
A three-day-long Chinese New Year celebration at the Kennedy Center in Washington culminated Monday night with Tang Muhai, the only Grammy Award-winning Chinese conductor, leading the Beijing Symphony Orchestra in a special program.
Before the performance got underway, Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai presented a paper-cutting rooster to the center's president Deborah Rutter to mark the Year of the Rooster.
"The rooster is a lucky bird in Chinese culture," Cui said. "It stands for hard work, pride, excellence and diligence, and through hard work, we'll have happiness and better lives.
"So we have a group of artists from Beijing who want to share their commitment to hard work — and their happiness — with you," Cui said of the orchestra.
Founded in 1977, the Beijing Symphony Orchestra features some of China's foremost musicians and is widely noted for its artistic excellence, extensive repertoire and unique Chinese style, according to the program.
A total of 107 artists performed the US premiere of the orchestra's rendition of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), according to Meng Haidong, vice-president of the Beijing Symphony Orchestra. The new version was arranged by Maestro Tang in collaboration with German conductor Cord Garben.
Mahler completed the symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde in 1909, reportedly inspired by the vision of earthly beauty found in ancient Chinese poetry, including the work of Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai. Mahler chose seven poems from a volume of ancient Chinese poetry published in German.
"The original work was already deeply influenced by Chinese music," Tang said. "Although unable to arrange for actual Chinese instruments in the orchestral work, Mahler imagined and imitated Chinese music with Western instruments."
Tang worked four traditional Chinese instruments into the orchestration — the erhu (a two-stringed violin), guzheng (zither), pipa (lute) and bamboo flute.
The work was sung by two world-renowned Chinese soloists — tenor Wang Kang and mezzo-soprano Zhu Huiling.
For Tang, the night's performance was a triumph for Chinese artists on the world stage.
"Hopefully, this version of The Song of the Earth represents a harmony between Chinese traditional culture and Western culture," said Shirley Young, program adviser of the night's performance and the chair of the US-China Cultural Institute.
Yuan Yuan in Washington contributed to this story.