Program Notes | 2023 Lunar New Year Celebration

2023 Lunar New Year Celebration
By Erin Lunsford Norton ©2023

Welcome to the Year of the Rabbit! It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since we last celebrated the New Year together here at NJPAC, with the past few celebrations confined to the virtual sphere by inclement weather and pandemic precautions. Finally, your New Jersey Symphony is back on stage to celebrate with you as we mark the new year with Music Director Xian Zhang’s signature blend of festive favorites by Eastern and Western composers alike in this fifth annual Lunar New Year performance. 

New Jersey Symphony Assistant Conductor Tong Chen makes her Lunar New Year debut, sharing the podium at Xian’s invitation and together, they’ve crafted a program that will delight and inspire. Li Huanzhi’s Spring Festival Overture kicks off our evening as usual, the 1956 work depicting the celebration of the Spring Festival, or New Year. A compact and joyous expression of exuberance, listeners may note similarities with the folk-influenced works of Copland or Dvořák.

Next, we revel in the remarkable talents of three fabulous soloists. We begin with Nancy Zhou, performing Zhao Jiping’s Violin Concerto No. 1. Premiered in 2017, this work blends Eastern and Western musical styles in a colorful musical tapestry the composer describes in just three words: “peace, pursuit and love.” Next, we’re treated to the World Premiere of a brand-new work by local Korean-American composer James Ra, titled Fantasia on Sae Taryeong, performed by returning Lunar New Year favorite Min Kwon. Ra’s new work is based on the traditional Korean song Sae Taryung (Bird Song), which celebrates the beauty of spring by depicting the many sounds of the season through music – and this new fantasia also serves as an ode to the uncommon woman, Ra says. Finally, we welcome back Chelsea Guo, who showcased her talents in last year’s virtual celebration, to perform preeminent Chinese-French composer Chen Qigang’s Er Huang – a work based on melodies from the Peking Opera tradition.

Our beloved choral collaborators of the Starry Arts Group Children’s Chorus and Peking University Alumni Chorus also make their long-awaited return to the Lunar New Year stage to delight and dazzle in traditional Chinese songs and operatic favorites, bringing the performance to a festive conclusion. 

There is nothing more rewarding than celebrating our hopes and aspirations for the coming year with you, our Symphony family, by sharing music that binds us across cultures and languages. Happy New Year!

               —Erin Lunsford Norton, Vice President of Artistic Planning


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