“It’s like being in Heaven," said Mr. Behrends. “Listening to this music is so impressive, they are very talented. It’s super pleasurable. It’s a great way that they've meshed the Western and the Chinese tradition. Sounds wonderful, fairly pretty.”
“I just thought that the conductor and the entire symphony just did a beautiful job,” said Stephen Rakowski, a political analyst at Stratfor. “Especially at the end with the encores, he was truly having a great time and I think that added even more to the audience having a great time.”
"It's incredible, just incredible," said Bruce Wyman, a psychotherapist. “I used to play the violin so I understand the kind of level of professionalism they’re using here, it’s just amazing. Very touched. The whole orchestra is incredible. It put me in a higher place. Very high place. I saw the ballet [dance performances of Shen Yun Performing Arts] a couple of years ago, and I had the same reaction.”
Ancient Chinese believed that culture and many aspects of it—such as art and words—were gifts from the heavens. This belief played a guiding role throughout society. In the 1960s, the communist regime in China tried to wipe out traditional culture.
According to Shen Yun, the artists value virtue and cultivating self-refinement, in order to create art that can uplift and inspire.
''The evolution of a culture, five thousand years, the development—and it’s so sad that it’s been lost," said Bruce Wyman. "I know that [Shen Yun is] trying to bring it back, which is a great thing. We need more of that in this country.”
“What it does is that it opens up your mind to the idea that China could be a force for good. We are kind of brainwashed here thinking that China is bad,” said Mr. Behrends. “But China doesn’t have to be bad. What we are seeing today is that China could actually be a great and a good thing for the world. It’s just that the ideology [the Chinese Communist Party] right now is not so great. I know that the Falun Gong have very honorable intentions and they are wonderful people. And that’s why I’m here today, because I support that.”
For school psychologist Frank Colosi, president of FAC Educational Services, Inc., the Shen Yun Orchestra's performance went beyond his expectations.
“It’s very moving, very emotional,” said Colosi. “It can be stimulating, but it also can be very calming too. I think music puts things in order in your brain. It kind of settles your brain, relaxes your brain.”
In traditional Chinese culture, music was thought to have the power to heal the heart and enrich the mind. According to its website, Chinese people have a saying “music before medicine.” Traditional Chinese medicine has a system that looks at the five major organs, and the ancient Chinese pentatonic scale was meant to align with these five organs.
“I listen to classical music predominantly. I really believe music like this, as a psychologist, stimulates certain parts of your brain. It really does. I truly believe that, ”said Colosi. “It touches the emotionalism of who we are as beings. Look at all these people performing as one. The appreciation of that is—how that happens is incredible—it’s just something you don’t see normally in life.”
“It’s just incredible music, incredible sounds," he added. "That [Chinese] part of it is what’s inspiring me or really touching me emotionally. It’s wonderful. It’s more than I expected. ”
The European Tian Guo “Celestial” Marching Band led a procession on Oct. 5, to help raise awareness of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) persecution of Falun Gong.
“With this parade we want to show the world and people of Zurich what is actually going on in China,” said Manu Huwyler, Event PR Manager. “For the last 19 years, there has been a persecution of those who practice Falun Dafa.”
Falun Gong was founded in northeast China in 1992. It is a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline that involves slow exercises and teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
According to several western media outlets quoting Chinese officials, there were as many as 100 million practicing Falun Gong in 1999. Then-party leader Jiang Zemin felt threatened and vowed to eradicate it. He launched a large-scale persecution of Falun Gong that continues until today.
“They shouldn't be afraid to have their own opinion, and to consider what is valuable in your own life," said Lauren Bouden, a graphic design student.
“I hope for all who are affected by this persecution that they are strong enough to endure,” said Elsa Höhn, a middle school teacher. “What they are doing is simply nothing evil. In general, I would say to Chinese people, stay open, stay alert, eyes open, ears open, and see what really happens. Don't let yourselves be influenced by the talks of the CCP. ”
“Stay strong, you have to hold on,” nurse Dejcz Megi added.
Charlene Rivera, a retired professor and former executive director at George Washington University, attended the performance and said it transports the audience to a panoply of destinations, both cultural and spiritual.
“The music is beautiful, it makes you think about the history of China which I don’t know a whole lot about; I know a little bit, but not huge amounts. It was very, very beautiful; beautifully done,” said Rivera. “Also the way the music is described in terms of bringing you to the garden—there are reminiscences of dancers and taking you to the creation scene, and demonstrating all of the different emotions that go through people’s minds, so it's a lovely performance. It just made you feel good.”
According to its program book, the highlights of this year’s program include new pieces, such as “Homage to the Great Tang Dynasty,” which tells the story of Emperor Taizong. He brought the Middle Kingdom to the heights of civilization in what is now considered China’s cultural golden age.
“The picture that it draws, and the connections musically that it makes, different landscapes, and the dynasties—the culture of it is very fascinating. Music always tells a story and that’s what you aspire to hear and understand and listen to,” said Albert Sargenti, a musician. “That’s what the musicians bring to it—their soul, their ability to transcend that music and make it understandable in a way for us, which is a challenge. It’s beautiful.”
“This has been breathtaking, absolutely breathtaking. It’s such a magical blending of both styles of music [Western and Eastern]. I’ve been to regular symphonies before, but you just don’t get this. This is something incredibly special,” said Michael Mobley, senior manager at Hughes Network Systems.
“I was surprised because I didn’t expect you to play Wagner, I didn’t expect to hear ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ and they did a fabulous job. The finesse is perfect,” said Roger Hart, a musician. “The conductor is a pleasure to watch. He’s a fabulous conductor, and the violin soloist was unbelievable.”
The orchestra played its original compositions and timeless masterpieces of classical music at Roy Thomson Hall on Oct. 5—to three standing ovations and two encores.
“I think this is quite wonderful. It is very, very suited to a modern audience,” said Shirley Ann Brown, professor, School of the Arts, York University. “I was very impressed particularly with the new compositions.”
“We are regular opera listeners. We go to concerts [pretty frequently]. The sound was wonderful. The orchestra is truly dynamic, and one can only admire the incredible discipline that it has,” said Michael Herren, distinguished research professor emeritus, York University. “And the energy that it puts into every piece that I heard—it was beautifully conducted and every section had virtuosos. I wouldn’t want to single any of them out but they were all beautiful. As a musical performance, I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
They were also thrilled with the erhu solo. The two-stringed, 4,000-year-old erhu is nestled into the orchestra right beside the violins.
“It comes closest to the human voice I think. And I’m an amateur singer so that’s something I appreciate,” said Herren. “You can feel somebody singing when you listen to the erhu.”
“The sound [of erhu] is ethereal. And then when I read there were only two strings on each instrument that’s where my piano playing came in, you know, lots of strings in the piano, and when I realized that there are just two strings and all that range of melody and range of sound, there is no sound like it. It’s quite incredible,” Shirley Ann Brown added.
This is just some of the praise mezzo soprano, host of CBC Radio Julie Nesrallah had for the Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra’s performance at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, Canada, on Oct. 5.
Julie Nesrallah is a singer, actress and broadcaster. In 2013, She was awarded the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for her cultural contribution to Canada as the host of CBC Radio 2's national classical music program, "Tempo."
“The singer [Haolan Geng, soprano] had a voice that was so strong and compelling, and the whole presentation was just superb, just perfection. I loved it. When she opened her mouth, it was so powerful. She’s so small, and this voice that came out, it was shimmering like silver,” said Nesrallah. “It carries all the way—so much strength that carried all the way to the end of the hall. The sound of her voice was just very powerful. A very unique voice, lots of silver in her tone which I like. I like it very much.”
“It is important to keep that bel canto technique alive because it is quality, and I think people, even if they don’t know what bel canto is, will feel quality. They know it when they hear it,” she added.
Among the pieces showcased in the orchestra’s new program are classical music favourites as well as original works from Shen Yun Performing Arts.
“It was a brilliant combination of the East and the West. Shen Yun played the Tchaikovsky [The Sleeping Beauty], ”Carmen Fantasy,” Wagner [Kaisermarsch WWV 104], interspersed with the Chinese compositions, which was amazing,” said Nesrallah. “They had a little bit of this, a little bit of that, very different layers and flavors. Just a perfect, beautiful night out, I would recommend it to anyone, it’s just perfect.”
“I liked that [piece Homage to the Great Tang Dynasty] very much because you could feel the energy of the title, of something being created in the universe,” said Julie Nesrallah.“It was very effective. [D.F.] is really excellent. It was all beautiful.”
As a retired Taiwanese TV actor and host, Tien Wen Chung takes pride in Taiwanese culture and was excited when he saw Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra showcase it. He said the skill and control of the artists, combined with every note at the beginning and the end of each piece, was incredibly moving.
"I have been watching since the very beginning. My eyes were glued. I enjoyed every single part and every section of the orchestra, it's just extremely stunning to watch," said Tien Wen Chung. "Everyone in the orchestra is at the top of their skills, their commitment to music is very, very deep, especially the conductor Milen Nachev, he is fabulous."
"They're so powerful. I think the conductor is the soul of the orchestra," said Ou Li Fei, a harp artist. "Everyone is so close to the heart, everyone is playing the same movement. For a musician, I think the most touching part is the resonance of the soul."
Chen Shun Sheng, honorary vice president of Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, also enjoyed the performance with Chen Shui-bian, the former president of Taiwan, at Kaohsiung Cultural Center on Sept. 17.
"Shen Yun is unexpectedly good. Very touching," said Chen Shun Sheng. "This is a rare opportunity to witness such a performance because Shen Yun integrates Chinese and Western music instruments in an orchestra. I’ve never seen anything like this before."