I’m a violist with the Hartford Symphony in Connecticut. For our opening concert set last week, we performed four concerts of Beethoven’s Ninth paired with the Yellow River Cantata, written by Xian Xinghai in 1939, following the Japanese invasion of China. It is said to be the first large-scale Chinese piece for full Western orchestra and a large SATB chorus, with 3 vocal soloists, and was intended to raise patriotic furor against the Japanese. It has since become a model for similar works.
The work is performed frequently and is hugely popular in China, but rarely performed elsewhere.
However, the Chinese-American community took note of our performance in a very big way! Chinese TV came to our Friday night, 10/12, performance, and filmed this video (you can see me, the white haired one, in the viola section on the right in the first bit of the video).
The Consulate General of China to the United States, Mr. Sun Guoxian, came to the concert with his wife and four staff members. The Consulate presented an enormous basket of flowers to the HSO on stage before the concert “in gratitude for the HSO performing this landmark Chinese work.” In return, the HSO and Connecticut’s Manager of Domestic and International Economic Development presented the Consulate with a plaque with a signed copy of the front page of the score and photos. Mr. Guoxian was absolutely delighted with our performance.
One of my many hats, beyond Polyphonic and the HSO, is being Executive Director of CONCORA, a professional chorus in Hartford, CT. Twelve of our members serve as paid Section Leaders (SLs) in the Hartford Chorale, and I’ve come to know many members of the Chorale while wearing my CONCORA ED hat. They (and my CONCORA SLs) universally complained about trying to sing in Mandarin. It was always the same with everyone I spoke with — they couldn’t focus on both the music and the text, which was below the SATB staves, and the text made no sense to them. Eyeballs back and forth — they all couldn’t do it well and were so frustrated. It gave me a great appreciation for what the choristers do, most of whom, across the country, pay membership dues to their chorale for the “honor” of performing with us; they know how to sing in German, Italian, French, etc., but none had any experience singing in Mandarin. They couldn’t memorize the words because they were meaningless. But they did well at the concert, bless them all.
Fortunately, the HSO staff (probably at Carolyn Kuan’s insistence) had the smarts to invite the the Kang Hua Singers of Greater Hartford, a state-wide Chinese chorus, to join the Chorale for these performances, so that Chorale members could just sing the notes when they couldn’t get the words out, and the words were still there for our Chinese audience. (The HSO also invited the Farmington High School Chamber Singers to join us for the Beethoven, but that’s a totally different story.)
Two minutes for media has never looked like this!