On The Avenue

Rooster Crows at New York Philharmonic Chinese New Year Gala

by Kelly Laffey Photographed by Linsley Lindekens, Chris Lee & Julia Skarratt
Friday, February 3, 2017

The Year of the Rooster kicked off on January 28, ushering in an uplifting time of awakening. Spirits were high at the New York Philharmonic a few days later, as the iconic New York institution held its sixth annual Chinese New Year Concert and Gala.

“The idea is to bring the entire New York community together through the arts,” said gala co-chair Shirley Young. The Chinese New Year Gala is a part of a city-wide celebration of Chinese New Year, which included an art show and the lighting of the Empire State Building. “It’s really grown in popularity,” said fellow gala-co-chair Angela Chen. “The U.S./China relationship is important, and music is the best way to transcend boundaries.”

With a program that celebrated China’s rich musical history and included eastern and western compositions, including multiple pieces that involved soprano Sumi Jo, the Philharmonic’s performance reflected the undertones of inclusion evident throughout the night. The performance has always begun with Li Huanzhi’s Spring Festival Overture, noted cellist Ru-Pei Yeh, who said that the entire ensemble rehearsed twice before the evening’s concert. The repertoire also featured the U.S. premiere of Chen Qigang’s Joie Éternelle (Eternal Joy), with Alison Balsom taking the lead on trumpet.

“The event is exciting for the whole city of New York. Music brings people together. Music is apolitical,” said Karen Lefrak, who is on the Philharmonic’s board of directors and helped to spearhead the inaugural concert six years ago. The Philharmonic has historically played an important role in the United State’s relationship with Asia. The orchestra travelled to North Korea in 2008, marking the first significant United States cultural visit to North Korea since the Korean War.

The event kicked off with a traditional dragon dance on Lincoln Center’s Josie Robertson Plaza, before guests stepped inside for a cocktail reception inside David Geffen Hall, where the dragon once again made an appearance. Prior to his performance, the dragon was fed for good luck, a tradition in Chinese culture. Guests were then treated to a concert conducted by Long Yu. “The repertoire has changed, but it’s always exciting,” continued Lefrak of the concert.

A festive seated dinner followed the Philharmonic’s concert. Tables were decked out in red, which represents luck in Chinese culture.

“This has become the iconic event in the Chinese New Year celebration,” said gala co-chair Oscar Tang. “And, it’s the only one tied to such an established New York institution.”

With 300 attendees, over $1 million was raised for the Philharmonic. A portion of the proceeds will support the New York Philharmonic’s School Partnership Program at P.S. 120 in Flushing, Queens. The school serves a large population of Chinese Americans and recent immigrants from China.

“It’s a fun event, and it’s gaining greater traction as the word gets out that it doesn’t have a lot of speeches,” said Tang toward the end of the evening. Oscar Schafer, the chairman of the New York Philharmonic, echoed that sentiment. “It’s 11 p.m. and it’s still crowded,” he said as he looked around. “There’s lots of spirit.”

Also in attendance were Honorary Gala Chairmen Mr. and Mrs. Maurice R. Greenberg, H.E. Ambassador Liu Jieyi and H.E. Consul General Zhang Qiyue. The Gala Co-Chairmen were Angela Chen, Guoqing Chen and Ming Liu, Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar L. Tang, and Shirley Young.


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