Thursday , November 26 2020
Beijing Music Festival 2020 China Philharmonic Orchestra
Long Yu conducts the China Philharmonic Orchestra at the Beijing Music Festival's closing concert 20 October 2020, with violist Yu Mingyue. Photo courtesy of the Beijing Music Festival.

Concert Review: China Philharmonic Orchestra – Beijing Music Festival Closing Concert, ‘We Were Born in 2000’ (20 October 2020)

The 23rd Beijing Music Festival, presented virtually but with performances before live audiences as well, encompassed 10 days of nonstop programming. I was able to experience via video the opening concert (reviewed here) and now the closing bash.

This impressive concert by the China Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Long Yu featured soloists all born just 20 years ago – also the year of the orchestra’s founding – hence the theme, “We Were Born in 2000.” It opened on a relatively light and joyful note, with the fourth and final movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. Countertenor Andy Shen Liu did a beautiful job with the soprano solo part, his voice embodying the title of the song that became the symphonic movement: “Das himmlische Leben (The Heavenly Life).”

The China Philharmonic Orchestra at the Beijing Music Festival’s closing concert, 20 October 2020, with countertenor Andy Shen Liu. Photo courtesy of the Beijing Music Festival.

Cellist Nana Ouyang joined the orchestra in two arrangements for cello and orchestra. Though her tone was bit thin at times, she did a nice job with the lullaby-like second movement of Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11 and with the aria “Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém (Song to the Moon)” from Dvořák’s Rusalka – even though for the latter, to my ear, the cello’s voice isn’t the greatest choice.

Those easeful pieces were a good set-up for Mendelssohn’s sublime Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, one of my favorite pieces in any genre. Lin Ruifeng was the soloist. It’s a brave choice for a young violinist in a high-profile setting, but Lin carried it off smashingly.

In the first movement the orchestra didn’t have quite the subtlety of dynamic contrast I like to hear, but it was a creditable reading, and Lin showed brilliant technique, his melodic leaps impeccable, his upper-register tone sure and tuneful, his cadenza confident. Likewise the second movement didn’t feel entirely fluid and the third not perfectly crisp, as if the conductor and soloist hadn’t quite agreed on ideal tempos, or perhaps it was bit of nerves on the young violinist’s part. But the shining quality of Lin’s sound, and his ability to make the many difficult passages sound easy, were undeniable.

The concert resumed after intermission with Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” Op. 43. Pianist Xiaofu Ju and the orchestra expressed the expansive romanticism and controlled excitement Rachmaninoff drew out of this well-known showpiece. Xiaofu played each segment and variation with an impressive depth of understanding as well as great technical agility on a wonderful-sounding Bechstein grand piano, while the orchestra’s full richness was on display as well. Together they delivered a performance that was rhapsodic indeed.

The China Philharmonic Orchestra at the Beijing Music Festival’s closing concert, 20 October 2020, with pianist Xiaofu Ju. Photo courtesy of the Beijing Music Festival.

Max Bruch’s unabashedly sentimental “Romance for Viola and Orchestra in F Major” Op. 85 featured a lovely performance from viola soloist Yu Mingyue, whose warm tone and impeccable intonation made this performance a surprising highlight.

The concert then drew to a close with a two pieces that nicely combined patriotism with an international spirit. Violinist Yanxiong Huang mellifluously relayed the simple melody of an arrangement for violin and orchestra of composer Qigang Chen’s “You and Me,” the theme song of the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Ye Zou’s collage “Homage to the Year 2000” then stitched together short elements of compositions from the Western classical and modern Chinese traditions. Though a bit gimmicky, it effectively displayed the orchestra’s variegated colors and the skills of its collective voices as well as some sparkling solo turns. It included a rendition of “Happy Birthday” (to the China Philharmonic, at its 20th) touched off by countertenor Andy Shen Liu, and concluded with a glowing moment from Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture.

Two rousing encores signaled a celebratory end to the 23rd Beijing Music Festival. This 2020 edition was like none before, and, likely as not, no BMF in the future will be quite like it either. Find out more about the Beijing Music Festival on their Facebook page. The entire concert is available to stream there, or below.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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