"Sister Cities Sharing The Same Horizon"

U-T San Diego Article: SD Symphony gets the message

Goodwill reigns as orchestra performs in San Diego’s sister city, Yantai

By James Chute 9:50 A.M.NOV. 2, 2013
Members of the San Diego Symphony meet dancers from a local Yang Ge troupe in Yantai, San Diego's sister city.
Members of the San Diego Symphony meet dancers from a local Yang Ge troupe in Yantai, San Diego’s sister city.

(Read article and view video HERE on U-T San Diego website)

YANTAI – The translation was a bit off, but the message was clear:

“May SDSO concert great success,” read the English printed under the large Chinese characters on a red-and-white banner hung from the balcony in the Poly Grand Theatre, where the San Diego Symphony performed its first concert in China on Saturday.

The message was also clear when a hundred children came on stage after the encore and accompanied by the orchestra, sang “America the Beautiful.” Whether they understood the words they were singing is questionable, but from the looks on their faces, and the sound of their voices, there was no doubt about their intent.

They, like the orchestra on this visit to San Diego’s sister city, were building a bridge between cultures. Nobody knows how strong it will be, or how long it will last, but on this particular evening, being in that hall, witnessing the audience’s warmth and enthusiasm, listening to the orchestra and hearing those children, it was impossible not to be hopeful.

There are few things as cooperative as music, and earlier in the day (following a rehearsal), many of the musicians attended the closing program of the Yantai Arts Festival. It included a range of Chinese traditional performers, whether dragon dancers or traditional Chinese musicians. But most impressively, it showcased a troupe doing Yang Ge dance.

Yang Ge, a colorful dance of the people, dates back roughly a thousand years. Apparently in Northern China, they like it so much that it’s been known to break out on streets in the evenings.

The particulars of what is essentially a line dance are easy to lose in translation, as Yang Ge has a number of associations and styles that have developed over centuries, but the message is clear: collaboration, cooperation and sheer joy.

That’s also the message in much orchestral music, including Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide,” which opened the symphony’s program in the Poly Grand Theatre.

Maybe there’s a conductor who takes this score faster than Jahja Ling, but it’s doubtful. Under his baton, the overture was a quick burst of energy. It displayed flawless teamwork, especially among the wind players who effortlessly passed the theme back and forth.

Ling took a little more time in an uplifting account of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8. If Ling sometimes tends toward emphasizing the more extroverted aspects of the music, this interpretation was well balanced, with the loud, visceral passages having even more impact and the softer, more lyrical moments offering that much more to savor.

And for its part, the orchestra played with unwavering focus and commitment.

Between the bursts of goodwill in the Bernstein overture and Dvorak symphony was violinist Joshua Bell as soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

There was much to get excited about in Bell’s passionate interpretation. He was in complete command, both technically and musically, and his cadenzas were otherworldly in their finesse and precision.

Even in his instrument’s highest range he was able to produce a pure, perfectly tuned sound, and there are few violinists who have the amount of control he has in the softest passages.

But he essentially offered his account of this well-worn concerto, and the orchestra was left to accompany. Maybe that’s a soloist’s right. But the most inspiring artists also find a way to make the arrangement a partnership.

This concerto was all Bell. Consequently, no matter how expert Bell’s performance, the piece didn’t have the chemistry of the other two pieces.

The orchestra performs in Yantai again tonight in a different program with violinist Augustin Hadelich, who has been traveling with the orchestra. Expect collaboration and good wishes to break out.