Radio Host and Classical Music Expert Rick Phillips Shares Thoughts on Shen Yun

October 3, 2015

TORONTO—Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra opened a new vista of sound to one of Canada’s foremost experts on classical music after the unique ensemble played at Roy Thomson Hall on Saturday afternoon.

Rick Phillips, affiliated with CBC Radio for 30 years, was known to classical music lovers across the country for 14 years as the host and producer of “Sound Advice,” a guide to classical music and recordings on CBC Radio One and CBC Radio Two every weekend. 

Shen Yun combines Western strings, percussion, woodwinds, and brass with classical Chinese instruments and melodies in its regular repertoire, creating a sound both new and unique. 

“To me it’s brand new. Never experienced this. Never heard it on recordings. Never heard it live. Very interesting, very good afternoon,” said Mr. Phillips. 

“I really enjoyed the mixture of the Eastern instruments, the Chinese instruments with the Western instruments,” he noted.

“It was very interesting to have the erhu, and the pipa with the violins, and the trumpets, and the clarinets. It’s beautiful.”

Mr. Phillips’s heft in the music world has extended to writing, lecturing at universities, and serving as a juror in the classical music categories for the Juno Awards. He is also the author of “The Essential Classical Recordings – 101 CDs,” published by McClelland & Stewart. 

Mr. Phillips said he was very familiar with the Western pieces that were performed, those by Tchaikovsky and Sarasate. 

“Everything else was new. It was wonderful,” he said. “I love the Chinese melodies.”

And he really enjoyed the erhu, he added, referring to the expressive two-stringed instrument that has a history of over 4,000 years and is often called the Chinese violin.

“Beautiful sound. The three erhus together were beautiful. The pipa I didn’t know as well, but I thought in the orchestra it’s a lovely sound,” he said. 

The pipa, or the Chinese lute, is a plucked instrument that is often seen played by heavenly maidens depicted in traditional paintings.

Mr. Phillips had high praise for the musical arrangements.

“The arrangements were very well done. Nicely balanced, nicely proportioned. Didn’t hear too much orchestra, didn’t hear too much erhu. Just perfect,” he said.

Shen Yun was founded on a mission to revive 5,000 years of divinely inspired Chinese culture and to build upon those traditions.

It’s a mission Mr. Phillips wholeheartedly supports.

“I think any culture that can bring back what we used to do, whether it’s 1,000 years ago or 5,000 years ago, is worthwhile,” he noted.

“History is too important. Our culture is too important. Regardless of East, West, Chinese, Canadian, American, English—we should study our old ancient culture.”

He also complimented conductor Milen Nachev, noting that “he was very good. I’m going to read up on him, … very talented.”

It was an afternoon that he enjoyed very much, Mr. Phillips said, and an experience he hopes others will have, especially when Shen Yun returns to Ontario and Quebec with its world-renowned dancers in April and May.

“Don’t miss it,” he said.

With files from NTD Television

New York-based Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra comprises musicians from the four Shen Yun Performing Arts touring companies. For information about the October performances, visit: