Yang Guang Lu Shang, the Mandarin in our title, glittered on the stage signage as the Liaoning Symphony and seasoned vocalists—including a hundred-plus chorale—regaled a standing room audience at the Shenyang Grand Theatre for New Year 2013 with music qualitative similar to concert halls around the world. The program listed 224 persons that went on stage during the performance.
We joined six foreign SAU instructors who were guests of the university president. We sat in the balcony, not quite the presidential booth (our Pennsylvania Quaker colleague would have demurred were it offered over the recent cinematographically revived Lincoln-Wilkes Booth memory) but affording a magnificent view of the huge theatre. The night was strictly proletarian with the elderly (no one attired to the nines!) and children (both little emperors and precious snowflakes from the one-child family policy) all present with a youngish-looking audience.
The overture set the tone of the holiday spirit. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake followed conjuring ballerinas pirouetting in their tutus. On the “four seasons,” the boys in the audience exceeded their normal attention spans and pulled out their games; the elders started flashing their digital camera cell phones even as the signs discouraged picture taking. When the “Spanish dance” tuned in, I was hoping for a Bohemian on top of a bar table ala Bolero, or even Romanian gypsies swirling petticoats, but ours was meant to be a sedate evening. The boys quietly played their digital games.
The orchestra had the full complement of strings (first and second violins, violas, cellos, double basses) and woodwinds (English and French horns, piccolo, tuba, trombones, cornet, trumpets, clarinets), brasses (flutes, oboes, bassoons and contrabassoons) and percussions (tubular bells, triangle, xylophone, castanets, cymbals, snare drum, timpani, gong, bass drum). The piano and a harp completed the ensemble.
The players merrily extolled “heaven and earth beaming in joy” while the “intense burning of passion filled the passing of time.” “Sunshine on the road” reached the evening’s midpoint. The symphonic poem of “my China heart” was next, popularized during Great Britain’s turnover of Hong Kong back to China in 1997.
Then the symphony went international. Strauss polka’d us down a German train station with an Alpine-clad trainmaster turning the stop/go red/green signs, and a hunter actually crept at the back of the orchestra and blew a musket directly (and horrifyingly) at the audience before we went waltzing down the Blue Danube.
An intermission would have been scheduled in other programs at this point but with public transport ceasing operation after nine, the conductor exited briefly so the symphony chorale could come on stage, and allow the concert to finish well on time for the dash to the public buses. “Why not sing to one’s hearts’ content?”, they bellowed, as Harvard-educated Cao Ding of Shanghai led the symphony in extolling the virtues of big Dong Bei (northeast aka Manchuria).
Then the influence of the Gong Chang Dang (CPC) went fortissimo with “we are on the high road” as the Xin nian hao (Happy New Year) greeting, in a verve we last heard from the old Soviets of Ukraine. “Ode to our Motherland” was true to form that would not be missing in a state-orchestrated event. We started readying our jackets, hats, and gloves to brave the chill of the night.
There was the obligatory encore, so we got another Strauss. Suddenly, the audience came alive. They would not cease clapping after the piece. Conductor Cai Ding returned to the podium with a light French ‘Ha! Ha!’ that delighted an awakened audience. The ensuing continuous applause made the conductor return to the podium and talk to his audience. The promised last piece from the French familiar Cancan got proletarian participation, leading to another piece offered as a freebie, with the whole house clapping to the last note at the conductor’s command.
Thus concluded a people’s concert and, in a frozen night late December in Dong Bei, it was a very appropriate ending.
Jaime Vergara, formerly a regular contributor in the Opinion section, will henceforth be an adjunct foreign correspondent in China for Saipan Tribune.