A year after the Great Depression hit, entrepreneur John J. Flynn’s brainchild theater opened in Burlington, Vt. The area had been relatively sheltered from the economic downturn due to the state university and textile and lumber industry, so in 1930, a long line of theatergoers stood outside in anticipation of opening night at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts.
Originally planned to host vaudeville, it quickly became a movie theater to host the new “talkies” that had come out just a few years prior. Over time it became a leading movie theater, hosted prime-time television programs like “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and even had a foray into the musical business over the years.
Since then, the Flynn Center has remained a cultural institution and fixture in the heart of Burlington, Vt., continually bringing the best of the arts to the community.
Now, Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra will bring a new sound to the Flynn Center. On Sunday, Oct. 4, the orchestra will play in Burlington for the first time, capturing the sounds of both East and West in one ensemble. The grandeur of a classical Western symphony serves as a foundation for soul-stirring traditional Chinese melodies in the original compositions Shen Yun presents, which audience members say is unlike any other.
The orchestra combines members from three touring companies of the group Shen Yun Performing Arts, which was formed by artists in New York in 2006 with the mission of reviving traditional Chinese culture. Then four years ago, Shen Yun’s unique orchestra made its debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall, and has played annual tours in North America since. This year, the program includes classical pieces by Tchaikovsky and Sarasate as well as original Shen Yun compositions.
Inspiring and Uplifting Concertgoers
Words like “divine” and “inspiring” are on the tips of audience members’ tongues when they spill out from theaters after listening to the orchestra play. Epoch Times has followed the orchestra’s tours since its inception, and from city to city, audience members seem to marvel over the depth of Shen Yun.
“It enriches my life,” said Elizabeth Pecota, a flute and harp player, after seeing a performance in 2014 in New York. At least ten times she was moved to tears from the beauty of the performance. “It was very moving, exciting but moving, and it just moved me to tears.”
“The music was varied and rich and covered all types of styles. It was just wonderful,” Ms. Pecota said.
In Southern California, television executive Bijan Eftekhari was amazed with the performance. “I’ve never seen such a thing. It was like a divine music,” Mr. Eftekhari said.
Architect Charles Terry, another audience member in Costa Mesa, Calif., said it was “probably the best day of my life.”
Many in the audience are often musicians or performers themselves, and appreciate the technical feat Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra has accomplished.
“I don’t think I will see two concerts like this all year,” said Kerry Stratton, conductor of the Toronto Concert Orchestra and Wish Opera. “I would have to follow this orchestra,” he said.
A. Randy Johnson, a composer and saxophone player from San Francisco, spoke highly of the musicians, their training, and the musical arrangements.
“[I enjoyed] the pentatonic feel and a lot of the really quiet, quick tremolos on the violin and cello,” Mr. Johnson said. “Listening to things that are indicative of a different culture but played on Western instruments—beautiful.”
The orchestra is, after all, the only ensemble that has mastered blending East and West on such a scale.
A Thoughtful Balancing of the Elements
According to Shen Yun’s website, behind all its music is the belief that the musical traditions of classical Western and classical Chinese are truly divine gifts. In question and answer sessions with composers, conductors, and musicians, Shen Yun demonstrates a profound level of thoughtfulness behind each performance.
“The best music, I think, isn’t just about technique and precision; the best music can communicate a performer’s feelings and touch a listener’s heart,” violinist Fiona Zheng says in an interview on Shen Yun’s site. This year will be her solo debut, with a performance of Pablo de Sarasate’s famed “Zigeunerweisen.”
“So, as a performer, your own heart has to be wide open. You need to be willing to expose your innermost thoughts to an audience of thousands. Because of this, sincerity is extremely crucial,” Ms. Zheng explains.
Conductor Milen Nachev, who has decades of experience and worked with some of the most renowned musicians, discussed the complexities of working with such content, ensemble, and talent.
“You need to be not only extremely well prepared musically and theoretically, you also have to be extremely well prepared with the history of music and knowledge about the capacity of every instrument in the orchestra,” Mr. Nachev said.
Mr. Nachev worked with the two best ensembles in Russia, which has a long musical tradition and musicians with similar educational backgrounds.
“With Shen Yun, the biggest challenge is that we have musicians educated in different countries, from different schools, from different backgrounds, with different understandings, different knowledge about the music,” Mr. Nachev said. “So to bring all of them together—and we have, of course, top-quality instrumentalists and high-level professionals—is my secret working with Shen Yun.”
And this is done through the power of music, he explains. “[It’s] a different level of communication.”
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: ShenYun.com/Symphony