VOLUME 28 NO. 3 | JANUARY 10 - JANUARY 16, 2009

Breakout Seattle concert celebrates Asia

Last updated 1-8-09 at 1:04 p.m.

Seattle Symphony associate conductor Carolyn Kuan shows intensity as she leads her orchestra in a rehearsal. Kuan will be conducting a first-of-its-kind concert, “Celebrate Asia!” on Jan. 16.
Photo by R.R. Jones

By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly

Covering more than 30 percent of the world with more than 40 countries, Asia is the largest continent. Among an equally large number of contributions made by its citizens throughout history, musical and performing arts continue to be the most familiar and entertaining displays of Asian culture.

An organizing committee of 10 Western Washington residents — mostly those of Chinese and Japanese descent who enjoy classical music — formed in December 2007 to discuss a first-of-its-kind concert to showcase some of Asia’s diverse cultures.

The committee is currently comprised of 15 representatives, including those from Korean, Filipino, Indian, and Vietnamese communities in the Seattle-metro area.

The committee will host a concert called “Celebrate Asia!” which will feature various Asian American performers, the Seattle Symphony, and the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra. The concert is on Jan. 16.

Starting at 6 p.m., pre-concert performances at Benaroya Hall’s Samuel and Althea Stroum Grand Lobby will feature Filipino soprano Gabrielle Borromeo, the Chinese Arts and Music Association, and Oriya performers Shivani and Natasha Mahapatro. Oriya performers are those with origins from Orissa, the eastern coastal state in India.

Ticket sales started on Oct. 11, and the general public’s response has been strong as the event is nearly sold out.
“We didn’t want to complicate the matter too much, so six (ethnic groups) was about right in the beginning,” said committee member and sponsor Yoshi Minegishi. He is also a board member of the Seattle Symphony and Japan America Society.

Minegishi and committee members hope the concert strengthens bonds with the broader community. Asian concert patrons are even encouraged to wear their culture’s traditional dress to the event.

Minegishi said, “I am fortunate to work with a wonderful committee of community members who believe that ‘Celebrate Asia!’ will help put Seattle on the map as the most Asian-friendly city in the United States and a great place to live and enjoy diverse arts.”

“Seattle has a wonderful nature of everybody loving Asian things,” he added. “Whether they’re into flower arrangement, art, or music. It doesn’t matter.”

The concert is unique in its balance of several Asian performers and cultures. Its closest comparison in the West Coast is an exclusively Chinese New Year concert organized by Margaret Liu-Collins, a member of the San Francisco Symphony Board of Governors.

“I had a nice telephone conversation with her for about an hour, learning all the things that she really had to think about, and I took her advice and started our program,” Minegishi said.

As associate conductor of the Seattle Symphony, Carolyn Kuan will lead the symphony in a joint performance with the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra. She views the concert’s benefits in a different way. “This is a wonderful way of introducing various cultures but also introducing people to classical music,” she said.

The one-hour concert combines music from the West — pieces by such familiar composers as Brahms and Strauss — with music from the East — Gang Chen and Zhanhao He’s “The Butterfly Concerto,” for example. The concerto — a Chinese version of “Romeo and Juliet” — follows an overture to the Romeo and Juliet–inspired “West Side Story” by Leonard Bernstein.

Kuan is of Chinese descent and said Asian classical songs “are fun to listen to. For everybody who comes to the concert, there will be something that’s familiar that’s new and exciting.”

Accompanied by the orchestra, Warren Chang will perform the concerto on the two-string Chinese violin (or er-hu).
“Also, the uniqueness of this particular program is that we have the youth symphony,” said Kuan. “So, we’re also trying to play pieces that the kids would be interested in. The Seattle Symphony actually does what we call ‘side-by-side’ with young musicians. I think this is actually one of the first times with the Seattle Youth Symphony.”

Kuan said Paul Kim, a 16-year-old Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra member scheduled to perform Ravel’s “Tzigane for Violin and Orchestra,” is “one of the young and exciting violinists, and we’re very excited to be able to have him.”

While the planning for next year’s concert has not yet begun, she did say, “We can, maybe, look into featuring some of the well-known, famous artists from various Asian countries and bring in some of the more traditional instruments.”
Minegishi said, “Success will create many sponsors and stakeholders.”

“We’d like to make this a very significant signature event for Seattle,” he added. “We would like to have all the communities come together by music.”(end)

For more information about “Celebrate Asia!” visit www.seattlesymphony.org.

James Tabafunda can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.


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