Ping-pong plays NY Phil­har­monic

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICA - By ZHANG RUINAN in New York ru­inanzhang@chi­nadai­lyusa. com

It was the first time a ping­pong ta­ble had taken cen­ter stage at the David Gef­fen Hall in New York, as two US na­tional ta­ble ten­nis cham­pi­ons played each other live as part of the New York Phil­har­monic’s Chi­nese Lu­nar New Year an­nual con­cert at the Lin­coln Cen­ter on Feb 20.

Ariel Hs­ing and Michael Lan­ders, the youngest-ever US women’s sin­gles cham­pion and US men’s sin­gles cham­pion re­spec­tively, were fea­tured as the ping-pong play­ing soloists in Andy Ak­iho’s en­er­getic con­certo, Ric­o­chet, Con­certo for Ping Pong, Vi­o­lin, Per­cus­sion, and Orches­tra, un­der the ba­ton of Chi­nese con­duc­tor Yu Long.

The per­for­mance uses the sounds from an in­tense ta­ble ten­nis match along­side a full sym­phony orches­tra, which saw the ping-pong play­ers el­e­vated at the back of the stage, like opera singers per­form­ing above an orches­tra pit.

“So it’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause when you were ac­tu­ally play­ing ping-pong, you can’t re­ally look at the con­duc­tor ob­vi­ously, but a lots of the starts we looked at him and then the stops we kind of lis­tened to the mu­sic,” Hs­ing said.

“I love the nat­u­ral and un­pre­dictable rhyth­mic pulses that the ping-pong ral­lies cre­ate, and I wanted to marry them with the or­ches­tral world where un­lim­ited tim­bral com­bi­na­tions could co­ex­ist,” Ak­iho told China Daily.

“We’ve never done any­thing with ping-pong be­fore,” says Bill Thomas, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the New York Phil­har­monic. “We’re do­ing the piece be­cause it’s Lu­nar New Year and we want to do some­thing new as a way to think about the fu­ture.”

The ap­pear­ance of the work in a pro­gram of mu­sic from China — home to some of the world’s great­est ta­ble ten­nis play­ers and the global hub for Lu­nar New Year cel­e­bra­tions — also evokes China’s ping-pong diplo­macy of the 1970s, with the vi­o­lin serv­ing as an in­ter­me­di­ary be­tween the per­cus­sive soloists and the orches­tra.

“The piece orig­i­nally had its world pre­miere in Shang­hai and the soloist who per­formed it serves as the con­nec­tion to the Phil­har­monic — our vi­o­lin­ist El­iz­a­beth Zeltser,” said Thomas. “We kind of knew this would be in­ter­est­ing and then we had the idea of per­form­ing it in New York as part of our Chi­nese New Year Cel­e­bra­tion.”

“Tonight’s con­cert, of course, has Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics, be­cause this is what we planned to do,” says Shirley Young, gov­er­nor of the Com­mit­tee of 100 and chair of the US- China Cul­tural In­sti­tute. “The con­tent of the con­cert is to give Amer­i­can au­di­ences a lit­tle taste of Chi­nese cul­ture.”

“The con­certo is re­lated to Chi­nese cul­ture and his­tory, and the soloists are two cham­pion ping-pong play­ers, to­gether with other soloists with the Phil­har­monic,” says Young. “So, this con­cert is ob­vi­ously not a nor­mal con­cert, it’s def­i­nitely a great New York Phil­har­monic con­cert but with Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics.”

The per­for­mance also fea­tured the Spring Fes­ti­val Over­ture, a cheer­ful Chi­nese or­ches­tral work com­posed by Li Huanzhi in the 1950s, Beethoven’s grand Choral Fan­tasy by 13-year-old pian­ist Ser­ena Wang and the Farm­ers’ Cho­rus from Yun­nan prov­ince, in their first ap­pear­ance out­side of China.

“They are real farm­ers, and 50 of them have come all the way from Yun­nan to per­form for us,” says Young.

Zhou Wei con­trib­uted to this story.

KEVIN LA­MAR­QUE / REUTERS

With tem­per­a­tures push­ing 80 de­grees on a win­ter day, Amer­i­can Univer­sity stu­dents Emilee East­man (left) and Ava Schulte en­joy a pic­nic lunch on the Na­tional Mall near the US Capi­tol in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day.

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