By Peggy Chapman
Northwest Asian Weekly
Celebrate Asia concert to include chorus, culture, and … cellphones
Approximately 20 years ago, conductor Jindong Cai experienced one of the most pivotal opportunities of his life.
He was studying at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and was assisting his mentor, esteemed conductor and composer Gerhard Samuel, who would be conducting a performance at Lincoln Center’s Mozart Bicentennial Festival in New York — when Maestro Samuel got sick. There were no other substitutes, so Cai was asked to conduct since he knew the program. Either he would have to be the replacement, or the performance would not be able to take place. He agreed to conduct.
Cai got to conduct the world premiere of a new production of Mozart’s “Zaide.”
“It was a great success,” said Cai.
And it was. According to the New York Times, the performance was “one of the more compelling theatrical experiences so far offered in the festival.”
“It set up my confidence to be a conductor,” said Cai.
Since that fateful performance, Cai has established a long list of accomplishments. He has conducted the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestras, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, the Northwest Chamber Orchestra, and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, among many others. He is the author of two books on the relationship between Chinese and Classical music and professor at Stanford University, where he has served as Music Director and Conductor of the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, the Stanford Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Stanford New Ensemble. He is also the principal guest conductor of the Mongolia State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet and travels to Mongolia frequently.
His upcoming project will be on Jan. 31 with the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall. Cai was asked to program and conduct Celebrate Asia, an annual concert that “is a rare opportunity to revel in the rich musical traditions of Seattle’s Asian communities, according to the event’s website.
The program is in place, and it is an intriguing one. It is apparent when meeting with Cai — he is excited about it. The program includes a wide variety — themes in the Celebrate Asia lineup will include comparisons between old and new (the program will begin with the overture to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s “The King and I”) and the East and West’s fascination with each other.
Unique features in the program include the collaboration of the Korean Music Association Evergreen Choir and the Seattle Chinese Chorus. Both choirs, a combined 110 members, will be performing two Korean songs and two Chinese songs. The members of each choir had to learn the other choir’s language — including different tones and inflections, so the result would be harmonious.
One of the most unusual segments of the program will be Tan Dun’s “Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds.” There’s an interactive part of the performance. The audience will be invited to download an app on their smartphones which has recordings of bird sounds.
Cai said he appreciates how the Seattle Symphony is so open to diversity and how there is a special “harmony among the Asian community and the Seattle Symphony.” He also has an affinity for Seattle, especially after being invited to conduct a program last year for the Chinese New Year for the symphony, which was a success. He said there is a “romantic feeling” to the city.
Now, as conductor of Celebrate Asia, he said he is grateful to have the unique position to bridge East and West. This is something he knows much about — the fascination with music in other cultures, primarily the Chinese fascination with Classical music, which, he stated, is relatively new. He has written two books on the subject, “Rhapsody in Red: How Western Classical Music Became Chinese” and “Beethoven in China: How the Great Composer Became an Icon in the People’s Republic.”
Cai always had an inclination toward music. Originally from Beijing, his first love was traditional Chinese music, but he fell in love with Classical music when introduced by a friend. He is also proud of his strong knowledge of contemporary music. He started playing the piano and violin at 12, and eventually decided to move to the United States to further his music education. He felt he needed to go West to study, primarily because he felt it was where the great orchestras were — Boston, Philadelphia — and it was a fruitful decision; he studied with renown composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, and the aforementioned Gerhard Samuel.
He values the opportunities he has received here, but he also stated, “[You] should also use your own music traditions.” (end)
For more information or to purchase tickets to Celebrate Asia (Jan. 31, 4 p.m., Benaroya Hall), visit www.seattlesymphony.org. “Rhapsody in Red: How Western Classical Music Became Chinese” and “Beethoven in China” (available in May) are available for order and pre-order on amazon.com.
Peggy Chapman can be reached at email@example.com.