What to Know If You’re Attending a Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra Concert

Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra is back after a three-year hiatus, and will perform two concerts on Oct. 22 at David Geffen Hall in New York City
What to Know If You’re Attending a Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra Concert
(Courtesy of Shen Yun Performing Arts)
Catherine Yang

Months after world-renowned Shen Yun Performing Arts finished its largest tour ever, the best musicians from Shen Yun’s eight companies will perform together at Lincoln Center for the first time.

Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra will only perform two concerts on Oct. 22, at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
While New York-based Shen Yun, the world’s premier classical Chinese dance company, has become a household name, fewer people have heard of Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra (SYSO).

You Don’t Need to Know the Music

Shen Yun’s in-house composers have since 2006 worked under the direction of Artistic Director D.F. to create all-original works for the company’s performance, which generally consists of about 15 dance and music vignettes.

The music generally employs ancient Chinese melodies, arranged to take advantage of the grandeur of a Western orchestra.

Save for a few Chinese instruments—percussion pieces like the wood blocks, the two-stringed erhu, and the Chinese lute pipa—the rest of the ensemble is a typical classical orchestra. As such, Shen Yun’s orchestras are the only ones in the world with Chinese instruments as permanent members of the ensemble. It’s what some musicians have called their “secret recipe.”

In response to popular demand, Shen Yun formed SYSO, an ensemble of more than 100 of its best musicians. In 2012, SYSO took to the stage for its debut at Carnegie Hall.

Each SYSO concert includes several original pieces, which can include music originally written to accompany dance performances, or entirely new works. One does not need to know the music, or need to have seen a Shen Yun performance, in order to enjoy the music.

Audience members, especially musicians and frequent concertgoers, have declared Shen Yun’s works to be a new frontier in classical music; depicting the themes and stories of ancient China and its divinely inspired culture through the universal language of classical music.

“It’s like entering a dream,” said music teacher and stage director Myriam Bourget, who described how the audience seemed to hold their breath when the erhu virtuoso performed a solo.

“I just thought it was so beautiful ... it’s very spiritual, it’s transcendental I think,” said John Locke, a musician with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, who attended a Shen Yun performance after crossing paths with Shen Yun at the local concert venue and hearing their musical rehearsals.

“It was unreal!” said violinist Valentine Reynaud. “For me, it’s something totally unheard of, because here, I have a very classical training and these Chinese instruments are really very beautiful, very unique ... I found it very moving.”

“The concert was as if you were being transported—an explosion—the universe being created—and the sound was really authentic. It was, at the time, like I heard it myself,” said Amon Denur, who attended a concert in Dallas with his family.

SYSO Performs Both Western and Chinese Classical Music

In a SYSO concert, the original works are performed alongside classical favorites like those of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Saint-Saens. The orchestra has performed coronation marches, popular excerpts from ballets and operas, and concertos with Shen Yun soloists. The Chinese instruments sit these pieces out—these classical works are performed as they were originally intended.

“The Tchaikovsky piece, the solo violinist, brought tears to my eyes. It was very moving, and this was my first occasion to bring my daughter to a symphony, and she describes having chills throughout the experience,” said minister and psychotherapist Brad Brodeur after a performance in Washington, D.C.

This year’s program includes Sibelius’sFinlandia,” the final movement of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, and the “Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto“ alongside the original Shen Yun works—a lineup that demonstrates the universality of the classical language.

Stay Til the End!

SYSO is known for giving encores, and sometimes multiple ones. The orchestra has given encores in concert halls all around the world, with audiences reporting that the two-hour performance flew by far too quickly.

Elizabeth Raum, composer and award-winning symphony oboist, was astounded by the audience response that preceded the encores after attending a performance.

“It was quite spectacular, I must say, and I’m overwhelmed by the quality of the musicians—they are wonderful,” Ms. Raum said. “I think the audience was overwhelmed too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two standing ovations and two encores like that, and I think it would have gone on, but the conductor left.”

Check out some of the previous-year encores below:

Additional encore performances can be found on GanJingWorld.com and ShenYunCreations.com.
Tickets are now on sale at ShenYunSymphony.org.
Catherine Yang is a reporter for The Epoch Times based in New York.
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