Tonight I went to a concert at the Poly Theater featuring the China Philharmonic Orchestra playing... American music.
It was interesting watching Chinese musicians from the mainland performing a program featuring 20th century American composers.
I got relatively inexpensive tickets 280RMB ($40.93) each, but there were even cheaper ones. It turns out there weren't many takers (or was it Valentine's Day hangovers?), as the auditorium was barely half full. While the first floor was kind of full, the second level, where I sat was quite empty save for the back seats.
People tried to sit closer, but staff tried very hard to get the patrons to go back to their original seats. It's important for them to understand the etiquette and enforcement is the only way to go.
Guest conductor Jahja Ling is of Chinese origin from Jakarta. He starting playing piano when he was four-years-old and later went onto The Julliard School studying piano in New York. After his masters, he turned to conducting and in 1982, he was chosen by Leonard Bernstein himself to be a Conducting Fellow at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute.
The program started with Bernstein's Excerpts from On the Town, a lively start to the concert. And the second part of the excerpts featured a slow movement in which Ling just used his hands to guide the string section. It almost seemed like he was hypnotizing the players and the audience into a reflective lullaby.
Then the stage was opened to include a grand piano and pianist Jessie Chang came on, wearing a black halter dress.
It turns out the musician is married to Ling. They met in 1999 during a church service in New York and in a 2001 article, the widower with two grown sons recalls admiring the Taiwanese Chang's maturity in not only music but life. They now have two young daughters.
Ling's interpretation of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue seemed a bit slow, but still energetic. However, Chang delivered a performance that lacked technical brilliance, and not much showmanship to compensate.
Nevertheless, the audience admired her effort and clapping continued until the intermission.
In the second half, the orchestra performed Aaron Copeland's Saturday Night Waltz and Hoe down from Rodeo.
This performance was just as strong as the first and seemed to lead to a promising finale.
However, the orchestra seemed to have lacked practice on Gershwin's Porgy and Bess Suite. Timing was off in parts throughout the piece and only until the finale did things come together, as if relieved the end was nigh.
It was a relatively short concert, finishing 1.5 hours later including a 15-minute intermission.
A musical taste of Americana in the heart of the Middle Kingdom. Not bad.