NEW YORK—For the fifth consecutive year, Shen Yun Performing Arts has brought together musicians from its five touring companies to create a symphony orchestra that masterfully combines traditional Chinese instruments and a full Western orchestra. Also for the fifth year, it has appeared at Carnegie Hall.
On Oct. 14, the first of its two concerts in the city, New Yorkers heard not only masterpieces from the European classical heritage by composers such as Tchaikovsky and Dvorák, but also compositions created specifically for Shen Yun performances each year, with melodies inspired by ancient Chinese folk and ethnic tunes.
The audience’s reaction to this unique presentation seemed to either be excitement or serenity, or, in some cases, the unusual mixture of both.
The former Channel 11 (WPIX TV) news anchor and TV reporter Kristi Witker was terribly excited to attend, and felt the concert was fabulous, especially the virtuoso violinist and the tenor: “Superb, enjoying it thoroughly and thank goodness somebody came up to me at the Philharmonic a few days ago with a little pamphlet,” she said.
Brimming with excitement was Joseph Hansen, a former corporate lawyer, who now works on inner city education projects. He felt “tremendous energy” coming from the stage throughout the concert. “I loved it,” he said. “It was wonderful. It’s exciting. It’s a mixture—some of the best of the West, and … some of the best of the East, China. It was so exciting.”
Yet, his wife, a teacher, remarked on the peaceful and calm feelings she experienced during the performance.
Describing the evening with superlatives was Stephen Winkler, a retired Wall Street banker. “I would rate this right up there at number one with the best in the world—this is wonderful,” he said, mentioning that he’d played trumpet for the New York Allstate Band years ago.
Both he and his wife, Mary, had watched the lightning fingering of the violinist Fiona Zheng and were awestruck: “We actually tried to move our fingers as fast as [the violinist] was. It was impossible. I’m saying, ‘Oh—how can she be doing that?’”
Mr. Winkler actually had a physical reaction at one point in the performance, “When [the conductor] brought the strings up to a crescendo, I felt it right in my chest. It was just wonderful. … They all were terrific.”
Stockbroker Ernest Torres and his wife, Catherine, loved the performance as well. Mr. Torres considered it better than other kinds of music he could list, “This is real music,” he said.
“It’s a beautiful feeling [that] I can’t describe. I feel alive, I feel better. It’s amazing—it’s great,” he said.
“The sounds coming from all the instruments, sound so clear. It’s organized. … I recommend it to everybody. You should all come see it, all races, all ages. It’s worth it.”
But Howard Kuperman, who owns a Ford dealership, seemingly felt the opposite of excitement during the performance: he described it as both awe inspiring and very relaxing. “It put my mind at ease and took all the stress that I have during the day and it just released it off my shoulders. I couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable experience—it was fantastic,” he said.
Also excited were professors, Ted Marmor and Kieke Okma, who is now retired. For Ms. Okma, it was exciting to hear the traditional Chinese instruments, which were new to her. “I loved the erhus. These were beautiful, like singing voices,” she said. And, for Mr. Marmor, it was the surprising and engaging integration of the full-orchestra with instruments and singers: “Whoever did it, whoever produced this did a very good job,” he said.
The integration of all of the components also impressed Sayan Sarkar, CEO of Invigorated NOW, a health and weight loss company. He was excited by the conductor Milen Nachev, “knowing how to tame every single part of the orchestra, every instrument, and make it all come together and sound fantastic”; by the soprano Haolan Geng ,whose voice seemed to enter inside of him because “it was so … perfect, [with] perfect tonality”; by the mind boggling finger movements of the violinist, whose “every single finger [was]moving, so fast, [with] this amazing accuracy, … the whole time,” and by the concepts behind the music, stories from thousands of years ago, brought into the music, and performed on stage, “how all of these things are intertwined.”
Perhaps Marta Tereshchenko, a classical pianist, who found the evening both educational and elevating, has an answer to these two seemingly opposite reactions.
Whenever we enlarge our horizons by meeting new cultures, she believes, whether through language or culture, we ourselves are changed. How we see the world changes. Hearing Chinese music allows us to expand our minds, she said.
This expansion is perhaps what excites people, as they move toward what is new.
Ms. Tereshchenko also believes that any good music is elevating. “But the Chinese music of this kind that I heard today is more than elevating. It just cleans your mind. … It brings you good spirits—like you’re eating organic food. This music is organic food for the brain …, excellent, excellent.”
Perhaps music that cleans the mind, restores and soothes the peace of the soul.