Symphony's Lunar New Year Gala to Sparkle

Janos Gereben on February 8, 2016
Young performers at the concert welcoming the Year of Monkey
Young performers at the concert welcoming the Year of Monkey

San Francisco Symphony's previous 15 Chinese New Year Concerts were about culture, tradition, an ethnic variety show, lots of fun for children (of all ages), and raising funds for community outreach and education programs, which provide music education to some 75,000 Bay Area school children each year.

At the same time, these events have also had some memorable musical highlights, such as the local debut of pianist Yuja Wang, who has been returning to the main stage here frequently as she is girding the globe with triumphant concerts.

Hoopla, fun, and musical discovery also will mix for the next edition, the Feb. 13 concert in Davies Hall, welcoming the Year of the Monkey, which runs Feb. 8 through Jan. 27, 2017, and for this cycle it's called the Fire Monkey or Red Monkey.

Once in a great while, it's the Fire Monkey
Once in a great while, it's the Fire Monkey

Mei-Ann Chen, music director of the Memphis Symphony, leads the orchestra. A free festival reception, beginning at 2 p.m., precedes the concert, with lion dancers, arts and crafts, and refreshments. The concert is followed by a fundraising Imperial Dinner, where attendance costs from $375 to $1,000. Concert ticket prices range from $30 to $74.

The program includes a traditional Chinese dragon dance, with members of the Loong Mah Sing See Wui dance ensemble; Li Huanzhi's Spring Festival Overture, Tan Dun's Water Concerto, traditional folk songs, some orchestrated by Huang Ruo. Originally scheduled, pipa virtuoso Wu Man has just withdrawn from the concert due to a wrist injury, and percussionist Haruka Fukii is now on the program, featured in the Water Concerto.

A special program offering is the fast-rising young soprano Pureum Jo, making both her S.F. Symphony debut on Feb. 13 and San Francisco Opera debut in the fall world premiere of Bright Sheng's Dream of the Red Chamber as Dai Yu, the opera's heroine. The Juilliard graduate and former Houston Grand Opera Studio Artist will perform in Davies Hall the aria opening the second act of the opera.

Sean Waugh, of S.F. Opera's Artistic Department, told SFCV that in the opera's story, Dai Yu is the crimson pearl flower who is reincarnated as an orphan girl in order to be with the Divine Stone, who is reincarnated on Earth as Bao Yu, her would-be lover, the lead tenor. Yet, when they both are sent down from Heaven, the circumstances in which they are born does not favor their hopes to be together. The lyrics of her aria, in which she mourns the impending marriage of Bao Yu to Bao Chai, the lead mezzo, by burying flower petals:

When their beauty and fragrance fade,
Who cares for the fallen petals?
Treasured in the flush of your bloom,
Yet soon discarded to decay.
Just like you,
I am prized for one moment, before I fade.
Just like you,
My heart breaks to see you so untended.
My heart breaks so.
Just like you,
I wish to fly on the winds.
Just like you,
I long to soar above earth.
I shall gather you, petals...
I wish to fly, to fly!