By Vivian Miezianko
Northwest Asian Weekly
Where can one enjoy a live performance by world-renowned Korean soprano Sumi Jo singing Korean songs in addition to a beloved aria by Verdi? Where can one savor an evening of Asian music and performances – both modern and traditional — and Western orchestral staples by Stravinsky and Copland?
On Jan. 14, Celebrate Asia!, a committee that brings Asian classical musicians to perform at Benaroya Hall, will host a concert there. Not only will the new program feature Jo and other world-class musicians performing on stage with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra; the event will also introduce the audience to a new piece of music composed by a young, talented Asian American.
The lineup, apart from Jo, includes Japanese koto player Masayo Ishigure, who will be featured in Japanese composer Tadao Sawai’s “Tori no Yo Ni” (“Flying Like a Bird”). The lineup also includes Chinese sheng player Hu Jianbing, soloist in “The Yellow Earth,” winning entry of Chinese American composer Huang Ruo in the first Celebrate Asia! composition competition. The concert will be conducted by Carolyn Kuan, former Associate Conductor of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
Yoshi Minegishi, former chair of Celebrate Asia!, talks about the committee and the upcoming event.
Q: How has the past year been for Celebrate Asia!?
A: Very successful. We have achieved our objectives. First, many Asians have come to the Seattle Symphony concerts. We had a full house of 2,500 people. Second, the Seattle Symphony realized that Asians like the music and the concerts at Benaroya Hall. Third, I think Asians have felt that they could be a part of the established culture and community of Seattle.
We have achieved these objectives in the 2009, 2010 events. We want to do the same for the Jan. 14 event.
And we enjoy meeting all these people from different Asian communities — Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, Thai, Filipino, and non-Asian and other communities.
Q: How did the committee come up with the January program?
A: It is a close collaboration between the Seattle Symphony and the community. The Seattle Symphony does the main stage programming — with Sumi Jo, the koto, and the orchestra and most of the promotional materials. In the past, the committee took more initiative, but the symphony is now responsible for most of the work. For this event and in the past, the committee supports the pre-concert and post-concert activities.
Before the concert, we have Thai music and dance, Filipino folk music, a Chinese cello group, and Chinese Lion dance – about 12 minutes each. And at the end, after the concert, there is a Japanese Taiko performance from the promenade. Among a few other details prior to and after the event, the committee is responsible for arranging those [activities] in the lobby.
Q: What are the difficulties in bringing about this program — with a world-class soprano, a koto player, and a sheng player?
A: The Seattle Symphony has a wide network of artists. And Celebrate Asia! has a very good brand now — in the U.S., not only in Seattle. Therefore, people of Asian background would like to participate. [The engagement of performers] depends on the availability of the artists. Like anything else, our challenge is always getting reasonable financial support. We are lucky that everyone in the committee is helping out in various ways.
Q: What is exciting about the January concert for the audience?
A: From an audience’s perspective, it is the only place in the world [where] seven cultures get together, [sharing pride in] their cultures. Many [members of the audience] come with their traditional clothes – especially the Chinese, Indians, Koreans, Vietnamese, and Filipinos have displayed their colorful clothes. I am looking forward to Thai participation, because it is [the] first appearance by them at Celebrate Asia!. We notice great excitement among their community. In general, each [cultural group] can enjoy their performance at the center of culture in Seattle — not just at their ethic center. And, for example, Chinese people may have no idea what Thai culture is like…. You get to see other cultures. And that is one of the top objectives of the concert.
Q: Can you talk a little about performers Sumi Jo, Masayo Ishigure, and Hu Jianbing?
A: Sumi Jo is a world-class soprano. Just look at her website. Ms. Ishigure, a well-known koto performer in the East, doesn’t get to perform very often with an orchestra, [with] approximately 90 people, because it’s such a big task. It is the same for the sheng music. Performers have very few chances to show ethnic music with the symphonic background. … Hu Jianbing is a member of [the] well-known Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. I don’t know any major American symphonies that host concerts like this. Seattle has a unique opportunity to show [such music]. I believe it is the only program like this in the world. It is so special! At any rate, the Seattle Symphony dared to take on this opportunity — [it] should be congratulated on it and be very proud of doing so.
Q: Why do you think non-Asians should attend this event? How will non-Asians enjoy the concert?
A: Non-Asians should know Asian cultures. In music, and in art, it is beyond social, economic, political issues. … Ultimately, to achieve peace in the world, [the] cultural level of understanding is very important. After all, it is the Asian century, that is, Asia is emerging into everyone’s life — no escaping, especially in Seattle. ♦
Celebrate Asia!’s concert will be held at Benaroya Hall on Jan. 14. Pre-concert activities begin at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.celebrateasia.org.
Vivian Miezianko can be reached at email@example.com.