China NCPA Orchestra debuts at Davies Symphony Hall

Pipa virtuoso Wu Man – Photo: Kuandi Studio

It’s a busy week for the San Francisco Symphony. As well as the Bernstein Centennial performances, there are the Diá de los Muertos celebrations on Saturday, and on Sunday the organization hosts the debut performance at Davies Symphony Hall of the China National Center for the Performing Arts Orchestra, part of a six-city US tour which celebrates the Centre’s 10th anniversary season.

Led by Lü Jia, the Orchestra plays Chen Qigang’s Luan Tan, Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Pipa with String Orchestra, with soloist Wu Man, and Brahms’ Symphony No 4.


Currently Artistic Director of the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Symphony Orchestra and Opera Director of the China National Opera House. Lü Jia is also Musical Director and Principal Conductor of the Macao Orchestra – a post which he’s held since 2008 – and Honorary Dean of Dalian Arts College in China. He has led performances in concert halls across Europe, the Americas and Australia, and appeared in some of the world’s leading opera houses, including the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and La Scala in Milan.

Lü Jia has held the positions of Music Director of the Arena di Verona, and Principal Conductor for the Trieste Opera, the Tuscany Regional Orchestra in Florence, the Lazio Chamber Orchestra in Rome, and Sweden’s Norrköping Symphony Orchestra. He has also guested for the Hallé and Bournemouth Symphony orchestras in England, the Dortmund Opera House in Germany, and the Milan Giuseppe Verdi Symphony Orchestra in Italy.

The soloist in Sunday’s performance is the premier pipa virtuoso, Wu Man, described by Gramophone magazine as “…. a muse for all manner of contemporary composers, from Tan Dun to Terry Riley”, who is credited with introducing traditional Chinese music to new audiences, and whose work, says Musical America, “… is part of a big step in the evolution of Western classical music. Thanks to her, the pipa is no longer an exotic curiosity, let alone a complete mystery”.


Soloist, educator and composer, Wu Man was appointed to the role of Visiting Professor of three major Chinese conservatories – the Shanghai Conservatory, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing – where she studied – and the Zhejiang Conservatory in her hometown.  She has premiered hundreds of new works for the pipa – the lute-like instrument which dates back around 2000 years in Chinese history – and has also initiated a number of multimedia projects to preserve China’s ancient musical traditions and to introduce them to the world. She was awarded The Bunting Fellowship at Harvard in 1998, and was the first Chinese traditional musician to receive The United States Artist Fellowship in 2008. Wu Man was named Musical America’s 2013 Instrumentalist of the Year – the first time that a player of a non-Western instrument has been honored with this award – and she was the first artist from China to perform at the White House.

In this performance, Wu Man celebrates the centennial of American composer Lou Harrison with the Concerto for Pipa which he wrote for her, and which she premiered in 1997 in honor of the composer’s 80th birthday. It’s described as a colorful work which represents his ability to blend the sounds of Western music with those of the countries on the other side of the Pacific from his West Coast home.

The opening work of the concert is Qigang Chen’s Luan Tan – a tribute to the composer’s son who lost his life at the age of 29. Qigang Chen describes this work as “energetic and happy …. positive, dynamic and full of life” – as was his son. Luan Tan was premiered by Xian Zhang and the Hong Kong Philharmonic on April 17, 2016, and receives its first US performances during this tour.

Lü Jia, Chief Conductor of the China NCPA Orchestra – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Lü Jia leads the China National Center for the Performing Arts Orchestra, with soloist Wu man, at Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday November 5 at 8.00 pm. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Sources of information:

Lü Jia

eBeijing, the Official Website of the Beijing Government

Wu Man


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Thibaudet plays Bernstein with MTT & San Francisco Symphony

Leonard Bernstein – © Paul de Hueck, courtesy the Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.

Continuing the celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s Centennial Season, Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony and guest artist Jean-Yves Thibaudet in a performance of the composer’s fascinating and introspective Second Symphony, known as The Age of Anxiety.

Based on W H Auden’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poem, the symphony depicts four characters in a bar in post-war New York – who share a feeling of disenchantment with the world. They strike up a conversation in which they share their individual struggles to come to terms with the effect that the war years have had on them, their lack of faith in society, and the difficulty they each face in finding a meaningful relationship.

Fuelled by their intake of alchohol, they find themselves being drawn together during their heated debate, and after the bar closes, the only girl in the quartet invites them back to her place to continue the evening. There they indulge in a display of jazzy, yet fake, frivolity, until daybreak, when they each return to their everyday lives of loneliness.

It’s as compelling a work as was Auden’s original poem, yet even more enigmatic, since the theory exists that the piano, around which Bernstein centers his work, actually represents a fifth person, almost a spectator looking in on the conservation. French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet has an even more intriguing theory – that the piano represents Bernstein himself, observing the events of the night. It “makes total sense”, he says, since he believes that the composer “is obviously telling an important story”. Very thought-provoking, particularly as Bernstein is quoted as saying that he found that “…… the composition of a symphony based on The Age of Anxiety acquired an almost compulsive quality”.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet – © Decca/Kasskara

Jean-Yves Thibaudet is a regular and welcome guest at Davies Symphony Hall, commanding – as he does – reviews such as “Great energy, brilliant technique and unassailable artistry” (Cleveland Plain Dealer); “….impeccable technique and a spirit that combines romantic expressivity with the most sophisticated lyricism” (el Nuevo Herald); and “…. dazzles with drama and emotion” (The Straits Times).

The program ends with the Richard Strauss tone poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), which is generally thought to be autobiographical, despite the composer’s protestations to the contrary. Written in 1897-1898, the work was dedicated to Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, and it was premiered on March 3, 1899 by the Frankfurt Museum Orchestra, with the composer conducting. It has six sections, played without a break, and entitled The Hero, The Hero’s Adversaries, The Hero’s Companion, The Hero’s Battlefield, The Hero’s Works of Peace and The Hero’s Retreat from the World and Fulfillment.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest artist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, in Bernstein’s Symphony No 2, The Age of Anxiety on November 2, 3 and 5 (this one at 2.00 pm).  For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Sources of information:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Artists’ websites:

Leonard Bernstein

Jean-Yves Thibaudet

New York Philharmonic program notes




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