From Pit to Stage to Blog - Our First Symphony Orchestra Tour
Scene: One of many rest stops on the endless bus ride from New York to Texas. A passerby chats with one man in a long line of suit-clad individuals winding around the aisles of chips, nuts and cold beverages...
Passerby: “Hi there! You're all dressed so nicely! Where are you from?”
Suit Person: “Oh, hello! We are with Shen Yun Performing Arts, from New York. We perform classical Chinese dance all over the world.”
Passerby: “Oh, wow! So, where are you headed now?”
Suit Person: “Texas. Actually, just to clarify—did I mention that this time we are in fact the Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra?”
That’s right, folks. A little over a month ago, the Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra embarked on its first concert tour of the United States. After a successful Carnegie Hall debut last year, Shen Yun decided to expand the orchestra and bring the music to seven U.S. cities. This year’s concert tour began at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, DC, and ended at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.
It was a terrific experience. But, to be honest, when rehearsals began back in the summer, for us musicians the prospect of touring as a symphony orchestra brought both excitement and apprehension.
On the one hand, it’s certainly nice for us musicians to take center stage. No need to lose hair over matching our musical rhythms and cymbal hits in the orchestra pit with the precise twirling of skirts or flying handkerchiefs on stage above. No need to memorize the music sheets covered by dry ice flowing from the stage into the pit. No need to wait for the curtain to fall before finishing that last fortissimo. This time, the music itself is first and foremost.
On the other hand, there’s the issue of time. Each year, Shen Yun produces an all-new program and tours with it all over the world. It takes us almost half a year to finish the global trek. So this year we had to somehow squeeze in separate symphony rehearsals in addition to rehearsing a full repertoire of pieces for the 2014 Shen Yun season.
Surprisingly, though, I can say that although it wasn’t easy, I never found it grueling, either. Instead, my mind constantly traveled through time and space, from brooding Beethoven to the hyper-happy folk tunes of Chinese rice paddies...
And it seems our symphony orchestra audience—from DC to San Francisco—traveled with us. Not literally, of course. What I mean is that in every concert they joined us on this magical journey. Every concert was a voyage through different regions, times, and styles as disparate as 19th century St. Petersburg and 8th century Chang’an. The music swept listeners from the emperor’s dream in a Tang dynasty palace to the sparkling ballroom of a Tchaikovsky opera.
As we moved from piece to piece, we explored the character of each. I was most inspired by the ending of “Creation.” This piece requires tremendous effort to play, with long passages of sustained forte fortissimos and successive fortepianos. The deceptively simple melodies actually entail immense passion, as we strived to grapple with a notion of what it meant for the divine to create our world.
And from New York to Los Angeles, every concert was exhilarating. Our greatest pleasure during the performance was being able to directly see our audience from the stage. I saw grown men wiping away tears after soprano Haolan Geng ended her song, and I will never forget how, after the finale, one man sitting front and center leapt out of his seat in applause, motioning for everyone around him to quickly join.
Now that we’re back in New York, our rehearsals with dancers resume as we return to the orchestra pit, with drums thundering and colorful skirts whirling on stage above us. It’s going to be another terrific performance and an exciting new season. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you as we tour around the world. And if you’re that person I met at the rest stop—be sure to say hi during intermission!