Chunyan Zhou and Henry Etzkowitz
On Sunday, February 5, at Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Symphony celebrated the Year of the Rabbit with the Lunar New Year: Year of the Rabbit concert and banquet. This year’s celebration marked the 23rd anniversary of the Symphony’s signature event, which is an elegant celebration of the Lunar New Year, drawing upon vibrant Asian traditions, past and present.
This year’s super high quality San Francisco Symphony Lunar New Year concert, in an Asian ecumenical gesture, featured Korean and other high quality national artists! The 5pm concert start time, preceded by participatory cultural happenings in the Davies walkways, encouraged a youthful audience; while also allowing a dinner time celebratory banquet.
The concert opened with “Saibei Dance from Saibei Suite No.2, Opus 21” by Chinese composer Huang Anlun, making the concert festive with the lively colors and sounds. “Saibei” refers to the plateau area in Northwest China, commonly known as the “Loess Plateau”. The climate there is cold and sparsely populated, and people make a living by grazing, planting, and hunting. The environment and way of life have created the pure and honest, brave and unrestrained, humorous and optimistic characters of the Saibei people. “Saibei Dance” describes the harvest festival, young men and women, young and old forget the hard work of the year, sing and dance enthusiastically and humorously to the rhythm of suona and drum, helping us to get rid of the COVID-19 depression and back to normal life.
Huang Ruo’s work “Music from Folk Songs for Orchestra” includes two pieces: (1) Flower Drum Song from Feng Yang, full of ethnic customs and festive melodies; and (2) Girl from Da Ban City, humorous, lively, relaxed and cheerful! Although the performance of western musical instruments is mainly known for its elegance, it lacks the ability to express festiveness and a lively folk atmosphere, but it also has a special flavor and created the effect that the original work intended. Coupled with the cooperation of large-screen projections the work was even more impressive.
The high-tech large screen on the Symphony Stage can engage people and add to their appreciation of music, even if this experience is new for them. For example, during the performance of The Angel from Formosa (by Tyzen Hsiao), the sky lanterns that appear on the screen work well with the ethereal feeling induced by Korean soprano Sumi J. The audience was fully engaged.
Finally, the stand out original work “Selections from transcendence” by composer Zhou Tian, with the combination of the big screen and the symphony orchestra perfectly shows the intent of this music. It is not only symphony, but story telling. From the video documentation presented on the screen as background, along with the music, we can imagine the scene where the Chinese were working hard to build the Transcontinental Railroad (put into use on May10, 1869). Leland Stanford, president of Central Pacific, former California governor and founder of Stanford University, told Congress in 1865, that the majority of the railroad labor force were Chinese. Without them,” he said, “it would be impossible to complete the western portion of this great national enterprise, within the time required by the Acts of Congress.” More Chinese immigrants began arriving in California, and two years later, about 90 percent of the workers were Chinese. In total, 15,000 to 20,000 Chinese immigrants contributed to the Railway, some of whom went on to build the Stanford University campus. Their contribution to infrastructure was publicly recognized at the time by Senator Stanford but often unrecognized since.
In the second piece, with the repeated turning of the train wheels, the introduction of steam power gathers momentum! The wheel of history is rolling forward. As balloons are shot down amid calls for limiting Chinese land purchases; it feels like a new exclusionary era may be at hand, if not countered. Facts are facts. The contribution of the Chinese in the United States continues. The constantly turning historical wheel on the big screen reminds us that the existence and contribution of the Chinese in this land cannot be forgotten. These 15,000 to 20,000 Chinese immigrants can’t be ignored by history, they deserved being rewritten into the history after 150 years (in 2019). The United States is not just black or white, it is a union of people of all colors and races, making it a God’s Garden of Eden, where people of all nationalities and races can contribute and enjoy happiness under the same blue sky and at the same time!
Notable Attendees at the dinner:
Earl Lee conductor San Francisco Symphony
Sumi Jo soloist San Francisco Symphony
Tiffany Chang Co-Chair
Thao Dodson Co-Chair
Photo Credit: Drew Altizer For DREW ALTIZER PHOTOGRAPHY, Devlin Shand For DREW ALTIZER PHOTOGRAPHY, Ando Caulfield For DREW ALTIZER PHOTOGRAPHY, Nico Henderson For DREW ALTIZER PHOTOGRAPHY