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Celebrate the Chinese New Year With the S.F. Symphony

San Francisco Symphony

Date: Sat February 8, 2014 3:00pm

Chinese New Year SFSIt's that time of year. Snap, crackle, and pop become an addition to San Francisco's urban soundtrack and little red envelopes become a hotter item in Chinatown bodegas than fortune cookies. What better musical way to ring in the Year of the Horse with the family than the San Francisco Symphony's 14th Annual Chinese New Year concert on Saturday, Feb. 8.

The Bay Area musical tradition offers something for everyone in the family, from hyper-kinetic ribbon dancers sure to fascinate a 5-year-old, to a concert that showcases an intriguing fusion of Eastern and Western music, including the first official Chinese music broadcast in space, followed by a very Imperial dinner in the grand rotunda of City Hall replete with a Forbidden City atmosphere.

Programming the musical portion of the celebration meant striving for a good mix of moods and energy levels, according to Richard Lonsdorf, artistic administrator with the San Francisco Symphony. With a family focus, the Lunar New Year concerts try to include shorter pieces and young performers. "We always want to provide something that has a lot of variety and engaging material, particularly when we have a family audience."

Starting at 3 p.m. the lobbies of Davies Symphony Hall will be transformed into a colorful Chinese festival with rollicking lion dancing, flashy ribbon dancers, complimentary food and tea bars, children’s entertainment and those “lucky” red envelopes.

red envelopeOne hour later, at 4 p.m., the music will begin inside the concert hall. Singapore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Lan Shui, in his San Francisco Symphony debut, will celebrate the Lunar New Year and San Francisco’s distinctive cultural heritage with a program featuring traditional Asian music as well as orchestral works influenced by both the East and West. He will lead San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra alumna Alina Ming Kobialka, a violinist (and the daughter of Chunming Mo, a violinist with the symphony), Australian pianist David Fung, in his debut with the San Francisco Symphony, and members of the symphony in the musical offerings.

A lively, traditional Chinese Dragon dance will kick off the concert that will include Li Huanshi's Spring Festival Overture. The composition, a New Year celebration musical standard in China, hails from the mid-1950s, and was chosen to be the first official music broadcast into space on China's initial lunar probe in 2007. Johann Strauss Jr.'s Voices of Spring Waltz, the traditional Ambush on All Sides, and Carmen Fantasy by the German-born, American composer Franz Waxman (best known for his film scores for Rebecca, Rear Window, and Bride of Frankenstein), also share the program with the traditional (arr. Yum Kwong) Colorful Clouds Chasing Moon. Pianist Fung will perform Er huang, a concerto for piano and orchestra, by Shanghai-born, Paris-based composer Qigang Chen, who was the final student of noted French composer Olivier Messiaen. The work is based on Beijing Opera themes.

"This concert really has the mainstays of a lot of fun and excitement," said Lonsdorf, who joined the San Francisco Symphony in March 2013 from the New York Philharmonic.

The multi-course Imperial dinner at San Francisco City Hall will begin at 6 p.m. Tickets for the dinner are sold separately and provide access to the festival reception, the Chinese New Year concert, and the Imperial Dinner. Proceeds from the Chinese New Year concert and the Imperial Dinner help to fund the symphony’s education and community programs that serve 75,000 Bay Area elementary, middle, and high school students each year, according to the symphony.

Tickets for the Lunar New Year concert and the preconcert Festival Reception are $30-$74, (415) 864-6000 or; tickets for Imperial Dinner at San Francisco’s City Hall are $350-$1,000,, or by calling the SFS Volunteer Council at (415) 503-5500.

Journalist Molly Colin writes about the arts and cultural trends.