NEW YORK—Mr. Robert Goebert, retired senior vice president and auditor of the Bank of New York, and his wife Mrs. Zaida Goebert, recently returned from a trip to Hawaii, and remembered he had curiously made note of the well-dressed group of people they had been on the plane with while JFK International airport.
So he watched as they boarded a bus with the words “Shen Yun” on its side, and realized they were the musicians of the same orchestra performance he and his wife had tickets to see.
“Wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” said Mr. Goebert during the intermission of the afternoon performance. “I’ve never heard Chinese music played by a full orchestra.”
The orchestra combines about 100 musicians from the four touring companies of Shen Yun Performing Arts, which was established in New York in 2006 to revive 5,000 years of the divinely inspired Chinese culture.
Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra does, on a grand scale, what no other ensemble has successfully done before: combine ancient Chinese instruments with a full symphony orchestra. Instruments like the 4,000-year-old two-stringed erhu and the plucked pipa carry melodies while the Western orchestra provides a full backdrop.
Mrs. Goebert particularly liked hearing, and seeing, the blend in instrumentation.
“I always concentrate on the musicians while they’re playing, watching them as they play as far as their feel for the music,” Mrs. Goebert said. “The combination is just beautiful.”
The selection of pieces provided both the familiar and new. There were original compositions featuring Chinese instruments, which were arranged from pieces written for previous seasons of Shen Yun, and classical pieces like the overture to Mikhail Glinka’s “Ruslan and Ludmila.” Vocal soloists performed in the bel canto style original compositions with lyrics in Chinese.
Tenor Tian Ge performed one of the world’s most famous arias, Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma,” much to the delight of Mrs. Goebert, who said she loves the piece.
“He was terrific,” Mr. Goebert added. “Very, very good.”
True bel canto technique has been all but lost, and Shen Yun seeks to revive it. According to its website, ancient Chinese drama and early European opera shared the same singing techniques. That said, pronouncing Chinese in perfect diction while singing in the bel canto style is exceptionally difficult.
“That was outstanding,” Mr. Goebert said.
Two years ago, the orchestra debuted at Carnegie Hall to a ten-minute standing ovation.
According to Shen Yun’s website, behind all of Shen Yun’s music is the philosophy that these enduring traditions of classical Chinese and Western music are truly divine gifts.
Saturday afternoon, Ms. Yvonne Heit sat just a few feet away from the orchestra, and was brought to tears by the end of the first piece.
“I find it mesmerizing. I find it relaxing. Honestly? When I close my eyes it’s like I’m in heaven,” Ms. Heit said.
Throughout history, different cultures have looked toward the divine to inspire art, and this is the principle that drives Shen Yun, according to its website. Shen Yun seeks to revive traditional Chinese culture, which originates from the ideas found in Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism.
“I think it’s marvelous, I love the way they integrated the orchestra, how they can go from Chinese to European, American, I think it’s just all wonderful,” Ms. Heit said. “I just love it.”
Ms. Heit, a longtime fan of Chinese music, especially enjoyed being able to hear the expressive erhu, an instrument having just two strings. Different finger positions and degrees of pressure can dramatically change the pitch, allowing the musician to convey a wide array of emotions, according to the orchestra’s website.
“It’s just beautiful, words can’t express how beautiful,” Mrs. Heit said.
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