Classical Music and the Emperor’s Journey to the Moon
Moon Festival, ancient Chinese melodies, and legends revisited
When the moon is at its roundest and brightest, Chinese celebrate their second grandest festival, the Moon Festival. Falling on the 15th day of the 8th month on the Chinese lunar calendar, the Moon Festival (a.k.a. Mid-Autumn Festival) brings family, friends and neighbors together, wishing each other happiness, good health and family togetherness. This year, the Moon Festival is on September 27.
The moon is important to Chinese people and has been inspiration for many legends, including one set in the 8th Century at the royal palace in Chang’en, the capital city of the Tang dynasty.
No guards patrol the steps of the Moon Palace, no kings hold audience in its halls, goes the legend. Amidst silvery pillars and glittering rooms are the domain of the goddess Chang’e and her fairy maidens. When she invites the great Emperor Xuanzong (712-756 A.D.) of the Middle Kingdom to her magical realm, he stands in awe—as all humans might—as the heavenly beauties begin to dance.
The maidens spin and twirl in a vision of luminescent skirts and feathery cloaks, their steps leaving delicate trails in drifting clouds. An exquisite melody descends from the Moon Palace musicians, pure notes falling like celestial rain. Leaning forward, the emperor closes his eyes and drinks it all in—it is far sweeter than any wine, far fairer than any fable.
Legend has it, upon returning to Earth, the emperor quickly wrote down what he experienced and tried to recreate the music and dance. He became one of China’s greatest patrons of the arts, and established the royal music academy known as Pear Garden.
Fast-forward some 13 centuries to the year 2012. Rather than in the Middle Kingdom’s capital and its Pear Garden, it was in the Big Apple that Shen Yun Performing Arts reimagined this story as a mini dance drama. The company, hailed by many as the world’s premiere classical Chinese performing arts group, brought it to Lincoln Center as part of its dance production and later performed the score at Carnegie Hall as part of its symphony performance.
Come October 3rd, Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra returns to Roy Thomson Hall. It brings with it a lost world presented like never before.
This orchestra is different. Its ensemble includes over 90 musicians, like most symphony orchestras, and many familiar elements—strings, brass, woodwinds, and conductors. But against the backdrop of a Western orchestra, Chinese instruments like the plucked pipa and the two-stringed erhu—instruments with historical roots as deep as 4,000 years—find new voice. They are the soul-stirring soloists playing Shen Yun’s in-house compositions, a bridge that brings the splendor of ancient legends to the present day.
Since its inception, Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra has performed a repertoire of both classical music’s masterpieces and original works by Shen Yun composers. In these compositions, like The Emperor’s Journey to the Moon, the distinct sound of Chinese instruments blends seamlessly into the rich sea of the Western orchestra. The spirit of ancient melodies is brought to life with grandeur and precision.
Shen Yun’s blending of the best of East and West in a decisive, yet delicate, fusion of sound has startling power. This fall, the symphony presents new arrangements of original Shen Yun music, which include works for tenor and sopranos performing bel canto in Chinese. In addition, the Western symphony orchestra will also play spirited masterpieces such as, Marche Solennelle by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Ziegeunerweisen Op. 20 by Pablo de Sarasate.
More than anything else, the performance is a timeless testament to music’s ability to speak to the heart.
Click here to hear 2013 Carnegie Hall recording of The Emperor’s Journey to the Moon, music by Junyi Tan, Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Kuo.
The orchestra will perform at Roy Thomson Hall October 3rd, at 1:30pm. For tickets and more information, call 1-855-416-1800 or visit: ShenYun.com/Symphony.