by Joe Shriner
While the winter storm continues to ice over New Orleans, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is ringing in the Chinese New Year with some fiery musical fare. On Friday, January 31, the LPO performs works by Stravinsky and Mahler, and celebrates the first day of the year in the Chinese calendar with a pipa concerto by Chinese native Zhao Jiping.
Conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto, the LPO will be joined by internationally renowned pipa star Wu Man, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, and tenor Anthony Dean Griffey. The performance kicks off at 7:30 pm at Mahalia Jackson Theater.
Awarded Instrumentalist of the Year in 2013 by Musical America, virtuoso Wu Man has been widely credited for bringing the pipa to Western audiences. The lute-like Chinese instrument has been around since at least around the 2nd century, and has been appearing more regularly in Western repertoire largely due to artists like Wu Man performing pipa works by American composers Philip Glass and Terry Riley. Over the last decade, Wu Man has given world premieres of scores by these composers, as well as works by Chen Yi and Bright Sheng. Continuing collaborators include Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Cho-liang Lin, and the Kronos Quartet. She has also performed with some of the most distinguished conductors today, including David Zinman, Yuri Bashmet, and Dennis Russell Davies.
Wu Man will solo on a concerto by Beijing resident Zhao Jiping for LPO’s Friday program. Jiping wrote the piece expressly to showcase Wu Man’s mastery of the instrument, basing the work on a folk melody from her hometown. Jiping is mostly known for his film scores for Chinese director Zhang Yimou.
Included in Friday’s program is Fireworks, written by a young Igor Stravinsky in 1908. The short orchestral fantasy was written to commemorate the marriage of Nadia Rimsky-Korsakov, the daughter of the composer and Stravinsky’s mentor, Nikolai. The showpiece, which makes use of a large orchestra is brightly dramatic yet controlled, marks a turning point in Stravinsky’s career. This was his most innovative and successful composition to date, and would eventually lead him to a life of fame.
Das Lied von der Erde (or “Song of the Earth”) by Gustav Mahler, by comparison, was not written as a celebration, but as a premature farewell to the world. Mahler had conceived the work the same year Stravinsky completed Fireworks, finishing it in 1909. The symphonic song-cycle is made up of six movements featuring two singers and orchestra. Friday’s concert showcases Grammy-Award winning mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, and acclaimed tenor Anthony Dean Griffey performing the epic work.
Clocking in just over an hour, Das Lied von der Erde focuses on themes of romance and debauchery, but also of loneliness, grief, and dealing with mortality. Written during a difficult period where the composer was mourning the loss of his eldest daughter and was diagnosed with an inborn heart defect, Mahler used texts based on Tang Dynasty Chinese poetry.
The LPO presents “Chinese New Year,” Friday, January 31 at 7:30pm at Mahalia Jackson Theatre, located in Louis Armstrong Park. Tickets begin at $20, with discounts for student and children. For further information, visit the LPO website or call (504) 523-6530.