According to composer and Orchid Ensemble musician Lan Tung, when people think of Chinese music, they tend to imagine the slow, meditatively serene sounds they hear in Chinese restaurants or on movie soundtracks – but the new Vancouver music festival she spearheaded is set to upend those narrow stereotypes.
The first Vancouver fest dedicated to Chinese music, the Sound of Dragon Music Festival not only includes ancient Chinese folk and classical repertoire, but also contemporary music, jazz, avant-garde improv, orchestral performances, choral music and cross-cultural fusions.
“Even when we’re on tour with the Orchid Ensemble, people always say it changes their mind because there is such diversity in the repertoire,” says Ms. Tung, an erhu player who moved from Taiwan to Vancouver 20 years ago. “So if we can do that with one ensemble, then just think what effect we can have with 17 different concerts by so many different groups.”
Among the performers at the inaugural fest are Taiwan’s Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra, a renowned ensemble that specializes in new works for Chinese instruments, which will perform both folk songs and original works by Taiwanese composers.
Known for its eclectic mix of musical styles and instrumentation, the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra kicks off the weekend with original compositions and reinterpretations of famous Chinese classics. Also on the roster is a rare performance by zheng master Xiang Si-hua, who Ms. Tung considers one of the greatest Chinese musicians of the 20th century.
Premieres of new works at the festival include John Oliver’s Celestial Storehouse for the Orchid Ensemble, three U.S. works for zheng soloist Yuchen Wang, Jin Zhang’s percussion concerto No Rush, and Ms. Tung’s own Sound of Dragon, which fuses Chinese melodies with African influences.
To close out the weekend, Toronto-based pianist, composer and improviser Lee Pui Ming – whose mother was a voice teacher who coached some of China’s biggest singing stars from the 1950s to the 1980s – will perform a Mother’s Day tribute concert that references the music she taught.
Sound of Dragon will also feature free workshops, an instrument petting zoo, video screenings, a multimedia installation by young artists, and a Sound of Dragon Café serving Taiwanese food.
Ms. Tung hopes the fest will not only entertain audiences, but also educate people about the range of Chinese music, and create opportunities for even more collaboration among musicians.
“Hopefully, we can break the stereotypes about how Chinese music sounds,” she says, then laughs. “And then maybe people won’t wait until Chinese New Year to call us.”
The Sound of Dragon Music Festival is at the Roundhouse and other venues May 9-11, and includes many free and family-friendly events (soundofdragon.com).