The Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra is part of the internationally acclaimed Shen Yun Performing Arts, a New York-based classical Chinese dance company; the Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra is currently on a seven-city tour from Sep. 27 to Oct. 22. It is the company’s first seasonal foray into a purely musical presentation following its successful debut at New York's Carnegie Hall last year.
Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra has achieved what many thought impossible: creating the perfect blend of Chinese and Western musical styles.
“Western instruments focus on the harmony, while Chinese instruments focus on the distinct flavor of the individual instruments,” said Keng-Wei Kuo, a conductor for Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra.
Kuo noted that composers who have attempted the merger of East and West in the past tried to harmonize the Chinese instruments. They wrote Western flute parts for the Chinese bamboo flute, or dizi, and violin styles for the erhu. Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra's composers do exactly the opposite.
But why combine music from two cultures?
There are many great qualities in Western music that Eastern music doesn't have. A symphonic orchestra has the capacity to produce the richest sounds through harmony.
“This way, it combines the best qualities of both cultures of music,” Kuo said.
Sewing the Flowers of Heaven: Tells the story of celestial maidens preparing a tapestry of brilliant flowers to give to humankind, revels in the textures of the erhu and the pipa, two Chinese string instruments played with a bow and plucked respectively.
The Emperor Journeys to the Moon: A story from the great Tang Dynasty which tells of the vivid dream of Emperor Xuanzong, composed by Gao Yuan.
Dancing for the Divine: An energetic piece of music inspired by the culture of Tibet, composed by Jing Xian.
And many more, including the majestic Creation and jubilant Snowflakes Welcoming Spring.
Tchaikovksy's Polonaise, Beethoven's Egmont Overture, two trumpet pieces by the American composer Leroy Anderson, and a dual flute number by Anton Bernhard Fürstenau.
“It doesn't matter if you're unfamiliar with Chinese music. Whenever you hear an erhu, it will stir the core of your soul… People always find it moving because it is a part of a basic characteristic of humanity to be able to connect with this kind of music. ” said Shen Yun conductor Keng-Wei Kuo.
“Chinese music is imbued with characteristics from that time period. It is filled with this collective aim for sustaining peace in society,” he said. “Its music is performed for the good of others.”
“I've gotten audience feedback that they found they felt an inner peace after listening to our music,” he said. “People find it uplifting.”
The erhu is a two-stringed Chinese violin with a 4,000-year-old history.
The erhu is one of the few instruments preserved in their original form for the most part. Besides the erhu, many ancient Chinese instruments have a similar effect when heard—such as the 2,000-year-old pipa that resembles a Western guitar.
According to Kuo, no background knowledge is needed to revel in the mesmeric character of traditional Chinese instruments.
“It's one of the instruments that is closest to original music heard by man,” he said. “That's why there is a natural feeling to it that people connect with, even if they aren't Chinese or familiar with Chinese music.”
“It blends very well together; I'm enjoying it very much...There are parts of the music that speak to me, and that's what I like so much about it...it's touching.”
-Mr. Chambers, said at the opening performance of the Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra at the Washington's Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
“The orchestra is top-notch. The music has substance in it. You could feel the message is actually in the music. The energy level of the music is strong, powerful, and full of energy. ”
— Gary Daverne, acclaimed composer, arranger and orchestral conductor of New Zealand
“Compliments to the composers that are able to integrate the two kinds of instruments. Delightful.” — Per Brevig, conductor and professor at The Juilliard School
“A distinct sound —so expressive..” — Kerry Stratton, conductor of Toronto Concert Orchestra
“The quality of the sound is beautiful. The rhythmic structure is wonderful. It’s so precise.”
— David Dworkin, conductor
“Very soulful, and very evocative music.” — Sharon Chapel, San Francisco
“Very descriptive, taking you to another world.” — Audience member at international debut at Carnegie Hall 2012