By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
Every year, the Seattle Symphony offers Celebrate Asia, a cornucopia of Asian dance and music that puts a spring in our step just as the weather warms—and seems to acknowledge, especially in these times of pandemic and global conflict, that we’ve made it through another year. Multicultural artistic events such as this one give a community hope, through diversity, color, and sound, that we can make it through adversity and look forward to the future.
This year’s event presents two new performances and brings back customary favorites such as the International Lion Dance Martial Arts Team and CHIKIRI and the School of TAIKO. As usual, pre- and post-concert festivities will take place in the Samuel & Althea Stroum Grand Lobby of Benaroya Hall, with the main event happening in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium. The entire occasion is part of the Symphony’s New Music WORKS initiative.
After guests are welcomed into the auditorium by the lion dancers, they will be treated to a feast of music by the Seattle Symphony, conducted by Singaporean Kahchun Wong.
Wong is the chief conductor of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra and has been called “one of the most exciting and innovative musicians of his generation” by Arabella Arts, among others. He got attention when he won the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition in 2016 and has conducted multiple world-renowned orchestras so far in his career. Along with the granddaughter of Mahler himself, Wong has established Project Infinitude, which supports children in art education, an area close to Wong’s heart. He has also been awarded the Order of Merit by the President of Germany—and is the only artist from Singapore to receive such honor.
The Celebrate Asia program will begin with a piece called “Meditation” by Toshio Hosokawa, which is an elegy to the victims of the 2011 Japan tsunami.
“Music is the place where notes and silence meet,” Hosokawa said, and the performance of “Meditation” will do both, starting quietly and building to mimic the sound of the approaching storm.
From there, guests will have the privilege of witnessing the U.S. premiere of Tan Dun’s “Trombone Concerto: Three Muses in Video Game,” which had its world premiere in 2021.
“The work is exciting, groovy, and spectacular, interspersed with beautiful, sweet, Chinese-like melodies,” described principal trombone, Jörgen van Rijen, of Concertgebouw Orchestra in the Netherlands, for whom the work was specially written. According to van Rijen and this orchestra, this piece takes inspiration from movie and video game music, along with three Chinese instruments: the xiqin, bili, and sheng.
Tan Dun is an American-born Chinese composer who draws inspiration from both Western and Eastern parts of the world.
In the upcoming Seattle/U.S. premiere of Hosokawa’s work, the trombone will be played by Ko-ichiro Yamamoto, Seattle School of Music faculty and principal trombone of the Seattle Symphony and the Saito-Kinen Orchestra (a special orchestra formed in remembrance of Hideo Saito, the co-founder of the Toho Gakuen School of Music).
Afterwards, the audience will be entranced by a world premiere of composer-in-residence Reena Esmail’s “Violin Concerto.” According to the Seattle Symphony, this piece is “about the elements being rendered out of balance by humanity’s influence on the planet,” and parallels the theme established with “Meditation.” The interplay of humans and nature is often dangerous and yet always with the potential to re-establish balance and make improvements.
Violin virtuoso Kala Ramnath will perform this portion of the program with this concerto written just for her and commissioned by the Seattle Symphony. Ramnath is a Hindustani classical violinist who comes from the Mewati gharana lineage of Indian musicians. Raised in a family of musicians, Ramnath has taken part in many significant projects, including the background score for the movie “Blood Diamond.”
In true cross-cultural fashion, she emulates Celebrate Asia’s mission of showcasing multiple world musical traditions by having worked with artists from India, to Australia, to the United States and to Great Britain. She has formed several world music bands and collaborated with the likes of Ray Manzarek from the rock band The Doors.
Like Wong, Ramneth is invested in the future of young people through a foundation she established called Kalashree. This charitable organization not only aims to support aspiring and financially-disadvantaged children to study music, but also to preserve Hindustani music, and finally, to provide healing to sick children through music.
The program will close with a performance of French composer Claude Debussy’s “La Mer” (“The Sea”), wrapping up with another piece evocative of water. Guests will leave the auditorium to the rousing beats of CHIKIRI and the School of TAIKO, refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to face another day, and another year, until next time.
The Seattle Symphony’s Celebrate Asia will take place live and via streaming on March 20. Learn more or get tickets at seattlesymphony.org.
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.