Toronto Orchestra Conductor: Shen Yun Pioneering a New Art Form

January 26, 2015 Updated: August 1, 2015

TORONTO—Toronto Concert Orchestra conductor Kerry Stratton finds something new to appreciate every time he sees Shen Yun Performing Arts.

Mr. Stratton was at the Sony Centre on Jan. 25 to see Shen Yun for the second time, accompanied by his wife Elizabeth and their children.

“There’s always an opportunity for [audiences] to be entertained in a new way, and I think people should seek this out and should get a ticket for a Shen Yun performance because it is something very new,” he said during the intermission.

In addition to the TCO, Mr. Stratton is also conductor of the Wish Opera, and has conducted prominent orchestras in Europe, North America, and Asia during his long and successful international career.

He said it was a pleasure to be a member of the audience for a change.

“It is such a great afternoon for me because I’m on the opposite side now—so it’s my day to be entertained and I am richly entertained today,” he said, adding that he appreciated the comedy in some of the story-based dances.

“There’s so much humour! They’re wonderful.”

It also gave him the opportunity to observe Shen Yun’s unique orchestra again, with its blend of Western and Chinese instruments. The Western instruments play the foundation of the scores while the traditional Chinese instruments lead the melodies.

Mr. Stratton praised the composers for their accomplishments in arranging the music—every score is an original composition created by Shen Yun artists.

“Whoever has done the arrangements in the orchestration has really thought this out quite well,” he said.

“It’s a very traditional style of music but it has immediacy—this will grab your attention, no question about it.”

Mr. Stratton attended Canada’s inaugural Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra solo performance at Roy Thompson Hall last year. This time he noticed the talent of each individual player coming through in the sound.

“There’s so many good solos in the orchestra,” he said. “The orchestra’s playing so well—it’s wonderful.”

He also noticed unique pairings of Western and Chinese instruments that blended beautifully.

“The combination of the traditional Chinese instrument and the trombone solo—it was wonderful. What a good player! Well, they’re all good players,” said Mr. Stratton, adding that the oboe and erhu, or “Chinese violin,” was also an excellent combination.

“The combination of erhu and oboe are two colours that you seldom hear together but they blend very well. All the traditional Chinese instruments that you hear in the orchestra—when they combine together – it’s a good result. Very attractive.”

New York-based Shen Yun was formed by overseas Chinese artists in 2006 with a mission to revive 5,000 years of divinely inspired Chinese culture. With its combination of classical Chinese dance, ethnic and folk dance, singers, musical performances, and high-tech digital backdrops, Shen Yun has something for everyone, said Mr. Stratton.

“These are good stories, good melodies, and obviously great dancers,” he said. “Everyone can enjoy it.”

He also appreciated the value of Shen Yun’s bilingual hosts, who introduce each of the 20-plus pieces and explain the meaning behind the story-dances, which portray ancient myths and legends right up to today.

“The host and hostess really animate this for us—they make things very clear in just a few words and that’s good because the general flow of this production is quite smooth, quite quick too,” he said.

“The visuals—it’s just non-stop—so much energy.”

Those “visuals” also includes computer-generated digital backdrops, which project vivid scenes and add context to each dance.

“I like the animation. It’s brilliant and it’s very seamless,” Mr. Stratton said, adding that he was impressed with the coordination and interaction between the performers and the screen.

“That must have taken an extraordinary amount of work but it’s very smooth, very smooth.”

With reporting by NTD Television and Justina Wheale

New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has four touring companies that perform around the world. For more information, visit

Epoch Times considers Shen Yun Performing Arts the significant cultural event of our time. We have proudly covered audience reaction since Shen Yun’s inception in 2006.