NEW YORK—The sounds of Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra inspired the creative soul Saturday night at Carnegie Hall, where aspiring novelist Alexandra Cronin and her mother Ann Cronin, an architect and designer, reported almost a restorative quality in the music.
“It’s so soothing,” Ms. Ann Cronin said. “Just wonderful and inspiring, uplifting. It made me really feel great and wonderful inside.”
“And just really connected to the world, the universe,” Ms. Alexandra Cronin added in agreement.
Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra is like no other in combining ancient Chinese instruments with a full symphony, and it is the only orchestra in the world that permanently includes Chinese instruments.
In addition to the unprecedented blending of East and West on such a scale, according to the program, the music is layered with meaning, and it shone through for the artists in the audience Saturday night.
Ms. Alexandra Cronin was amazed by the variation of sounds, pieces, and moods, but the vocal soloists’ song lyrics were what tied the theme of the performance together.
“They’re talking about the Creator,” Ms. Alexandra Cronin recalled, explaining the connection she felt to the music. “And the stars and the universe, and the cosmos, and the gods. All this, and it’s amazing.”
Shen Yun’s soloists sing in bel canto style, and the program included the famous “Nessun Dorma” by Puccini, as well as original compositions. According to Shen Yun’s website, ancient Chinese drama and early European opera employed a similar technique, but the art of bel canto is rarely practiced in its original form now.
Ms. Alexandra Cronin said during intermission, she and her mother discussed how inspiring the performance was. “It brought a tear to my eye at times,” she said.
“Soothing, but also uplifting and dramatic, with the deep undertones,” she added.
The belief that music is healing is one that has prevailed from the earliest times. In Chinese, the character for medicine is actually derived from the character for music.
“Our ancestors believed that music had the power to harmonize a person’s soul in ways that medicine could not,” Shen Yun composer Gao Yun says in a blog post. Behind all of Shen Yun’s music is the belief that the enduring traditions of classical Chinese and Western music are truly divine gifts, according to Shen Yun’s website.
“Everything was perfection,” Mrs. Ann Cronin said.
For award-winning New York-based choreographer and performance artist Jonathan Gonzalez, it was the energy of the performance he felt the strongest.
“Energetically, it just feels like a communal whole,” said Mr. Gonzalez, who attended the performance with his mother Alba Cardona. “It feels very strong and seamless—dynamically, musically.”
As someone who has studied dance his whole life, Mr. Gonzalez, a graduate of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and currently pursuing an MFA, wanted to be able to process the whole effect of the pieces as well as the different sounds. Some, like the Puccini, were familiar, and others were completely new.
“Sorrow Melts Away,” arranged by Shen Yun composer Junyi Tan, features three erhu players in an arrangement Mr. Gonzalez had never heard before. Yet at the same time there was a familiarity to it, he said.
“There was a level of nostalgia where I could recall the sounds,” Mr. Gonzalez said.
The 4,000-year old, two-stringed erhu had been just what Ms. Cardona was looking forward to.
“It felt very intimate,” Ms. Cardona said.
Chef, food consultant, and health education advocate Eric Hunter cooks with the philosophy to feed one’s soul. He practices tai chi, aims to master simplicity, and seeks to rejuvenate through harmonized cuisine.
So, hearing Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra for the first time, Mr. Hunter felt a deep connection to the art.
“It pierces the soul,” Mr. Hunter said.
The range of sounds, the highs and lows, all created a picture for Mr. Hunter.
“It was a feeling for me,” Mr. Hunter said. “Listening to music, I see movement. I see colors, I see shapes, I see stars. I see it all.”
Attending the performance had been a birthday gift for his mother, Ms. Pat Hunter, who came from Baltimore to visit her son.
“I could feel the stories behind the music,” Ms. Hunter said. Indeed, many of the original Chinese compositions are arranged from pieces written for Shen Yun Performing Arts, which includes several narrative dances every season.
“Many of the pieces that they played really, really touched me emotionally and got my visuals going,” said Ms. Hunter.
She could picture the warriors on Wudang Mountain, she said, mimicking a march. She could feel the romance in “Nessun Dorma,” and the happy and sad parts of various other pieces.
Mr. Hunter agreed. “It really touched me. I was moving as the music was moving.”
Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra is on a seven-city tour with performances in Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Toronto, Chicago, Miami, and Sarasota, through Oct. 27. For more information, visit www.shenyun.com/symphony