The Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra’s blend of two great musical traditions held the audience spellbound at Roy Thomson Hall on Sunday, Oct. 23. The performance ended with two curtain calls and three encores—the audience wanting more of this unique East-meets-West orchestra.
The New York-based orchestra had just returned from its first tour of Asia and presented two concerts at New York’s Carnegie Hall before playing in Toronto, its only stop in Canada.
Among the pieces showcased in its new program are Western classics as well as original works from the 2016 tour of Shen Yun Performing Arts, the renowned classical Chinese dance company.
The orchestra’s combination of Chinese traditional instruments and a Western orchestra provides special expressiveness and grandeur. With western instruments as its base, the orchestra brings out Chinese musical flair through a variety of instruments such as the erhu, pipa, and suona.
Soprano Rebecca Spour was absolutely blown away by the performance.
“It was just divine. There are no words that can describe it. It was absolutely breathtaking. It was inspiring. It was transcendent,” she said.
“There was one piece where the French horns came in—I used to be a French horn player so I listened very closely—and the rhythmic section took over and there was a standing ovation. Everyone stood up and it was dynamic. … It was just so powerful.”
It was renowned Toronto Concert Orchestra conductor Kerry Stratton’s third time attending a concert by the Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra.
“They’re a remarkable ensemble,” he said, adding that violinist Fiona Zheng’s performance was “very cool.” She played “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” by Camille Saint-Saëns, a piece widely regarded as a hallmark of violin virtuosity.
“It’s technically quite a demanding piece but she’s right up to the challenge,” he said.
Noted Toronto flautist Allan Pulker called Ms. Zheng “an amazing violinist,” and also praised conductor Milen Nachev.
“He is very well trained obviously. He loves what he is doing. He has a very good rapport with his orchestra, no question about it. I think they really love playing under him.”
‘I found it enthralling’
Karim Mirshahi, founder and publisher of Toronto Waterfront Magazine, was among the enthusiastic audience on Sunday afternoon.
“I loved it. It was a great performance,” he said. “I totally enjoyed it.”
The magazine’s managing editor Ross Munroe and his wife, Virginia Munroe, also an editor of the magazine, were equally impressed.
“It was really inspiring. I thought it was a wonderful amalgamation of traditional Chinese music and Western music, and it’s really uplifting,” said Mr. Munroe, who has a musical background in playing the violin and trumpet.
“I found it enthralling. I loved it,” said Mrs. Munroe, pointing in particular to a piece called “The Mystical Udumbara,” about a flower that blooms only once every 3,000 years.
The udumbara flower’s appearance signifies the return of a great figure—the Buddhist “Holy King Who Turns the Wheel”—who is said to bring salvation to the world, as explained in the program book.
Jason Cyrus, a visual merchandiser who works for Gucci designing store windows, said the performance left him feeling “very excited and very calm.”
“It was a beautiful experience to sit and see the musicians play, just to hear the sound, and you could feel the emotion as they were playing and singing. … It was beautiful. It’s almost like electricity. You could feel it coming from the orchestra towards you because of the passion that they put into playing the piece. It was really well done.”
The three encores at the end of the concert surprised oboe player Elizabeth Raum.
“I was blown away by the audience reaction. I don’t think I’ve ever seen three standing ovations. That was incredible,” she said.
Ms. Raum said she very much enjoyed the oboe section, and also the piece by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard it more excitedly played,” she said.
“And of course the soloists were wonderful, they were just wonderful. And the erhu and the pipa, it’s very interesting how they blend with the orchestra, with the Western-style orchestra that way.”