The Beijing Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Tang Muhai (center),
will tour the United States and Canada in February.
The Beijing Symphony Orchestra will tour North America in February to present Spring Festival concerts.
Under the baton of conductor Tang Muhai, the orchestra will combine works of the East and West. They will be performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington on Feb 6, the Sony Center for the Performing Arts in Toronto on Feb 9 and the National Arts Center in Ottawa on Feb 12.
In the United States, the first half will include Chinese composer Chen Qigang's L'eloingement (Go to the West) for string orchestra, Chinese composer Huang Ruo's Oboe Concerto and an orchestral piece adapted from the Peking Opera classic The Drunken Concubine.
Chen's piece is based on a folk tune popular in northern China that tells the story of a large number of people who went abroad to make a living from the 17th to the early 20th centuries.
Chen also wrote the piece to mark the 20th anniversary of his departure from China to study under the late French composer Olivier Messiaen in Paris.
He learned Western classical music techniques but never forgot Chinese tunes. Chen once described himself as "a Chinese tree replanted in France".
Originally, he had planned to use erhu, a two-stringed traditional Chinese instrument, which usually produces melancholic sounds. But when he started, he found even that could not fully express his feelings, so he switched course and began to compose for string orchestras. But Chen continues to use folk tunes in his orchestral work.
The piece L'eloingement, created using a computer in 2004, proved to be a turning point in his career.
"I like the composing software because it speeds up my work and saves me time and energy," he says. "It also forced me to change my old, fixed ways of thinking and composing. I tried to imagine music while looking at the computer screen. And I don't write on paper with a pen any longer."
The second piece, Oboe Concerto, will feature Wang Liang, principal oboe of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
The 36-year-old Chinese oboe player began to learn the instrument at age 7 and enrolled in the middle school of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Then he went to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where he got his bachelor's degree in 2003.
Before joining the New York Philharmonic in 2006 as the principal oboe player, he played the instrument for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.
The Imperial Concubine will feature Peking Opera actress Zhang Xinyue. The original aria by the same name was a hallmark piece by the late maestro Mei Lanfang, whose singing and performing style became one of the most important schools of the ancient Chinese art form.
Zhang, 36, began to study from Mei's son, Mei Baojiu, in 1997 and has been one of the leading actresses of the Mei school.
The piece combining the Peking Opera aria and a Western classical orchestral composition will add to the festival air of the Chinese New Year.
The second half of the concert in the US will feature Gustav Mahler's Song of the Earth. Mahler composed the symphony between 1908 and 1909 after reading German translations of Tang Dynasty (618-907) poems. Mahler was fascinated by the natural beauty of Chinese poetry and he picked seven to set to music.
"Mahler created the work to express his admiration of China's earthly beauty. For this version in the upcoming concerts, we have added some traditional Chinese instruments to lead each movement. I hope to give the Western audience a rich Chinese flavor," says Tang.
In Canada, the orchestra will start the concerts with the national anthems of Canada and China, followed by the Chinese folk song Beijing Tidings.
Chinese violinist Ning Feng will play Brahms' Violin Concerto in D major. The orchestra will also play Petrovich Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.