Yue Bao
Yue Bao will make her conducting debut with the SF Symphony at the Lunar New Year Concert | Courtesy Yue Bao

Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, is the most important cultural holiday for many nations in East, South, and Southeast Asia and is celebrated by people of Asian descent worldwide.

The San Francisco Symphony’s Lunar New Year Concert on Feb. 5 will be the 22nd such event in SF Symphony history. Past Lunar New Year concerts featured debuts by numerous young conductors. 2006’s program was the Bay Area’s introduction to Yuja Wang, then just 18. Another exceptional performance in the series was last year’s virtual concert

Bomsori Kim CD
Violinist Bomsori Kim is the soloist in the Butterfly Lovers Concerto

The 2022 edition will also present a conducting debut, that of Yue Bao, assistant conductor of the Houston Symphony, and will feature violinist Bomsori Kim and SF Symphony cellist Amos Yang.

Due to the surge in the Omicron variant and out of an abundance of caution, this year’s event has been scaled down to just the concert portion; the usual pre-concert festival reception and the Blue Moon Banquet will not take place.

The program includes:

Huan-zhi Li, Spring Festival Overture
The first movement of a suite honoring the Lunar New Year by Li Huanzhi, originally Li Zhaocai, also known as Li Zhonghuan (1919-2000). Born in Hong Kong, his ancestors came from Fujian, and his mother was Taiwanese. He had his entire career in China; in 1985, he was elected chairman of the Chinese Musicians’ Association.

Chen Gang and He Zhanhao, The Butterfly Lovers Concerto

Butterfly Lovers Concerto
The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto was written in 1959 by two students at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music; it is now heard in figure skating competitions and concert halls around the world

Along with the Yellow River Piano Concerto, this is one of the most famous Chinese works of orchestral music. It is an adaptation of an ancient legend, the Butterfly Lovers, the tragic love story of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. Written for a Western-style orchestra, the piece features a solo violin played using some Chinese techniques and is also performed with erhu, pipa, and liuqin. It also makes uses of the pentatonic scale and Chinese melodies, chord structures, and patterns. 

Tan Dun, From Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Suite
“Eternal Vow” from Tan Dun’s score to Ang Lee’s 2000 Academy Award-winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon features Yang, SF Symphony’s assistant principal cello.

Texu Kim, Spin Flip
The composer says: “Spin-Flip is an eight-minute overture which is all about ping-pong. It conveys the driving energy of a (good) ping-pong match; its primary motives are derived from the sound of cheering crowd and balls bouncing around on the table (and occasionally on the floor); its alternating harmonic pattern and somewhat random form reflect the alternation of service and unpredictable result, respectively.”

Li Yuan, Train Toccata
The work of a composition professor at Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music, the work draws from the full chromatic palette of Western music in depicting a rushing locomotive, but it also maintains a distinctly Chinese flavor, even to the extent of quoting from the song “Train,” made famous by Taiwanese pop star Lo Tayu.

Huang Ruo
Huang Ruo is known for such operas as An American Soldier and Dr. Sun Yat-sen | Credit: Wenjun Miakoda Liang

Huang Ruo, Folk Songs for Orchestra
Asked about East-West fusion, Huang Ruo told SFCV: “Different composers write music differently. I often write music reflecting on my own experience and journey, integrating both the Eastern and Western culture into an organic creation instead of collaging cultural symbols.” 

Huang writes in his program notes: “Folk songs reflect the life, culture, and soul of a civilization. I grew up in China and have always had a fond love for Chinese folk songs. China has more than 50 ethnic groups, each with its own culture, traditions, and folk songs.

Folk Songs for Orchestra is an ongoing project, in which I plan over the years to compile and set folk tunes from various parts of China into Western orchestral form. The goal is not only to preserve and renew the original folk songs, but also to transform, elaborate, and develop them into new original pieces of art that also contain an organic personal voice.

“I have chosen four of the most well-known Chinese folk songs: ‘Flower Drum Song From Feng Yang’ (known for its flower-drum performances, Fengyang is the birthplace of Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty); ‘Love Song From Kang Ding,’ from Sichuan Province, with a simple melody and vivid rhythm that are easy to remember and sing and lyrics telling of a timeless theme — love; ‘Little Blue Flower,’ based on a song from Shanxi province; and ‘Girl From the Da Ban City,’ from Xinjiang province, sung by carriage drivers in Turpan.”

The SF Symphony concert will include only “Flower Drum Song From Feng Yang” and “Girl From the Da Ban City.”

Year of the Tiger map
“Year of the Tiger on Parade” is the SF Chinese Chamber of Commerce’s display of six life-size tiger statues placed at strategic points around the city.