This year we had the pleasure to travel around Europe with the China Traditional Orchestra Zhejiang. For the third time already, the orchestra had been chosen to feature in the Grand Chinese New Year Concert Tour. Many musicians still recalled memorable moments from past tours in 2006 and 2007, like visiting the pyramids in Egypt or setting foot on the Red Square in Moscow.
Members of the China Traditional Orchestra Zhejiang in Egypt in 2006.
On the 23rd of January, almost 90 people took off on another journey, travelling from Hangzhou, the capital of the province of Zhejiang, located on the Chinese east cost in the south of Shanghai, to Switzerland.
After our arrival in Switzerland, the orchestra musicians first of all had the chance to get familiar with the Swiss environment and breathe some fresh mountain air. The cable car brought us up to the mountain Pilatus in the height of more than 3.000 meters, a welcome change to the metropolis of millions Hangzhou.
On the next day, the first concert in KKL Lucerne was on, which should mark the first highlight of the tour. In Lucerne, the Chinese New Year Concert has already a tradition of eight years and the concerts are all along a thrilling experience.
The orchestra receives a grand applause from the audience in Lucerne.
Again this year, the KKL was completely sold out and the orchestra was celebrated by 1.800 spectators. For the conductor Zhang Lie it was not the first performance in KKL. In an interview with the Chinese television he enthused about the lively atmosphere and the extremely sympathetic audience in Lucerne.
Interview with Maestro Zhang Lie.
With two busses and a truck for our instruments, we drove from Switzerland up North towards the Netherlands, where the Luxor Theater Rotterdam had invited us to give a performance. It should be the first Grand Chinese New Year Concert in the multicultural port city. After our arrival in the theatre, we started as usual with the set-up of the instruments. While the big and heavy instruments like timpani, bass drum and harp had to be rent in every location, all Chinese instruments were brought from China, like for example the guzheng of the soloist Su Chang, which is a kind of zither with usually more than twenty strings that are plucked with the help of plectra that are attached to the fingers. The concert was a thorough success and was received with enthusiasm especially by the local Chinese community. We hope to be back next year!
The charming guzheng soloist Su Chang in Luxor Theater Rotterdam.
After one day of sightseeing in Amsterdam, we moved on to Bremen, where in the morning the obligatory visit of the market square with town hall, cathedral and the Bremen town musicians was on the agenda. In the afternoon we went to Stuhr, a suburb of Bremen, where initially some recordings for the Chinese television with New Year Greetings by the whole orchestra were made, which should be broadcasted in China on the next day.
The orchestra with the New Year Greeting in front of Gut Varrel Stuhr.
The Grand Chinese New Year Concert has been presented in Stuhr for ten years already. The Gut Varrel stands out among the grand concert halls, it is an old barn that has been converted into a performance venue, promising a distinct flair to all visitors. Like every year, after the dressed rehearsal, German sausages and sandwiches were offered which the group enjoyed a lot.
Peking Opera tunes in the beautiful scenery of the barn in Stuhr.
The concert in Stuhr was accompanied by an introduction through the moderator Gerhard Schmitt-Thiel. “The next piece will demand a great deal from you”, he warned in reference to the upcoming Peking Opera aria. The audience, which consisted of many regular guests, enjoyed the performance nevertheless. The highlight was the encore piece: the German folk song “The thoughts are free” sounded on Chinese instruments and several spectators joined in with joy.
Zheng Peiqin interpreting an aria of the famous Peking Opera „Farewell my Concubine“.
The moderator Gerhard Schmitt-Thiel leads through the concert program.
From Bremen we drove to Essen on the next day, where we had the chance to perform in the Philharmonic Hall. Also in Essen, Mr. Schmidt-Thiel stood by the side of the audience, in order to explain the background of some music pieces. We learned about the importance of the Silk Road for the Asian cultures and that in the province of Shanxi you can find a sort of Chinese Way of St. James, too. Also some instruments were introduced like the dizi, a Chinese bamboo flute or the sheng, a sort of mouth organ.
Dizi and sheng players in the Philharmonic Hall in Essen.
Shortly before the end of the break the moderator gathered the spectators to teach them the Chinese New Year greeting “xin nian hao”. The audience put up a good show and gave the orchestra musicians a special treat at the end of a very successful concert. After leaving the concert hall, the orchestra celebrated the New Year in a Chinese restaurant with typical Chinese dumplings (jiaozi) and good German beer.
An enthusiastic audience on the Chinese New Year’s Eve in Essen.
Cottbus marked the next station of our tour, where we had our first guest performance in the State Theater Cottbus. Thanks to the great audience from Cottbus, it should also become one of the most memorable concerts. “It is a pity that for such a long time we were denied to such beautiful music”, we heard an elder gentleman say during the intermission.
At the end of the concert and after two encores the applause did not want to come to an end, the hall was shaking until the conductor Zhang Guoyong returned to the stage and explained to the audience that in China normally only two encores are given; but for the best audience in the world, he would make an exception – and he turned to the orchestra and played another one.
Percussionists and suona players in the State Theater Cottbus.
The conductor Zhang Guoyong giving last instructions before the concert in Budapest.
From Cottbus to Budapest, we had to lay back a long way on partly bumpy streets. Yet after the arrival in the beautiful Budapest the strains were soon forgotten, the Bela Bartok Hall in Palace of Arts offered a striking sight. Quite some time was spent on the rehearsal this time, after all the Hungarian television was present. Until shortly before the concert instructions from the conductor were spread around.
The guzheng soloist Su Chang is warming up before her performance.
A small slip occurred even though when the head of a gaohu, a string instrument similar to the erhu, fell off during the concert. The soloist Su Chang, whose image could be seen on posters throughout the city, gave a remarkable performance.
Concert with video recording for broadcast on Hungarian television.
The first Grand Chinese New Year Concert in Hungary ever ended with rapturous applause. After the concert, some fans waited in front of the artist entrance and asked for autographs. A local artist even had self-painted drawings showing the conductor Zhang Guoyong and the soloist Su Chang, which they signed with pleasure.
Generous applause by the Hungarian audience for the orchestra’s performance in Palace of Arts.
Since our musicians very much appreciate their own food, on every concert night Chinese dishes were offered. In Chinese restaurants in Europe mostly only a copy of Chinese food is served. Contrary to this phenomenon, along our journey we were able to discover some primary restaurants with authentic Chinese cuisine, the restaurant “Taiwan” in Budapest was among our favourites. After our concert day we stayed in Budapest for two more days, which were used by our musicians for sightseeing, visiting coffee houses, thermal baths, relaxing and above all shopping, while many romanced over the cheap sales prices.
In Vienna we had the honor to collaborate with the famous moderator and actress Chris Lohner, who guided the audience with lots of charm and humour through the concert program. She also explained what is behind the Year of the Horse, which followed the Year of the Dragon at the end of January 2014 and will determine the next twelve months. According to the Chinese horoscope, people born in the Year of the Horse are considered to be smart, energetic, vigorous and ambitious.
Chris Lohner from Vienna explains the backgrounds of the Grand Chinese New Year Concert.
After the break, the orchestra played three movements from the Capriccio “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains”, which is about the eponymic painting by one of the most recognized painters of Chinese history of art, Huang Gongwang, that was separated into two parts in 1650, which can nowadays be viewed in different museums in China and Taiwan. The composer of the piece, Liu Yuan, who accompanied the whole tour, was acknowledged with a big applause. At the end, the orchestra gave three cheery encore pieces for the enthusiastic audience.
Erhu players in Vienna Konzerthaus interpreting the “Fuchun Mountains Capriccio”.
After our concert in Brucknerhaus Linz, some spectators were so moved that they would not want to leave the hall. Several enthusiastic music lovers came on stage to view the unusual instruments at close quarters. The orchestra member Yang Xiaoyi was pleased to give a last encore on her erhu. She played the famous Mongolian folk song „Horse Racing“, taking the listeners to the wild Mongolian grasslands.
With the acclaimed concert in Brucknerhaus Linz, the Chinese New Year Tour 2014 came to an end. We thank all our partners, helpers and moderators who supported us so splendidly and also our bus drivers who had to bear so many last minute changes and a growing number of suitcases due to the high purchase activities of our musicians. We are already looking forward to our tour next year!
An interested spectator examines the instrument of the erhu player Yang Xiaoyi.