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Program Notes: Lunar New Year (February 10, 2024)

Updated: Feb 8


February 10, 2024

Norman Huynh, conductor

Dragon Dance Team

Thunder Drum Team

Li Huanzhi

Spring Festival Overture

Dai Wei

The Dancing Moonlight

Tan Dun

Internet Symphony, "Eroica"

Allegretto – Dolce molto – Allegro – Allegro vivace

Maurice Ravel

Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas from Mother Goose Suite

George Frideric Handel

Overture from Music for the Royal Fireworks

arranged by Anthony Baines and Charles Mackerras

He Zhanhao & Chen Gang

Selections from Liang Zhu (The Butterfly Lovers) Violin Concerto

Rulin Olivia Zhang, erhu

Igor Stravinsky

Final scenes from The Fire Bird: Suite

Infernal Dance of King Kashchei –

Berceuse –



Program Notes

The Lunar New Year takes place over 15 days. Houses are swept clean of bad spirits, red and gold decorations (symbolic of good fortune) are hung. Family get-togethers are celebrated with symbolic food: whole fish, for example, represent abundance; uncut noodles, longevity; dumplings, good fortune; and bags of tangerines, good luck. And the color red—symbolizing joy, virtue, and sincerity—is to be seen everywhere, not least in the form of envelopes containing money and given as a wish for prosperity.

As we welcome the Year of the Dragon, we add music to the mix with a festive program that blends East and West, traditional and new.

Li Huanzhi

Spring Festival Overture

Li Huanzhi

Born 1919, Hong Kong

Died 2000, Beijing, China

In the traditional Chinese calendar, the full moon of the New Year festival marks the end of winter and the ushering in of spring. There’s every reason for celebration, and since its composition in the mid-1950s, Li Huanzhi’s Spring Festival Overture has become closely associated with the festivities. It’s one of the most frequently programmed works for special events in China and is so well-known that in 2007 it was included in the musical selections sent into space on the Chang’e No. 1, China’s first lunar-probe satellite. 

This brilliant and cheerful music effortlessly blends East and West—traditional folk melodies from Shanbei in the Shaanxi province of northwest China are presented with finesse in an orchestral soundscape and harmonic language reminiscent of the folk-inspired works of 19th-century European composers such as Antonín Dvořák. In this respect, the Spring Festival Overture shows the influence of Li’s teacher Xian Xinghai (composer of the Yellow River Cantata), who in the 1950s pioneered the combining of Chinese thematic material with the procedures and instruments of Western music.

Also suggestive of a Dvořák dance is the three-part structure: fast and vigorous outer sections, underpinned by percussion, frame a graceful and songlike center featuring the reedy sound of the oboe. (This type of lyrical song would convey prayers for good luck and peace in the year ahead.) The melodies themselves come from Shanbei in the Shaanxi province of northwest China, where Li lived during the 1930s and ’40s, but as his eldest son has said, “Though it originates from Shanbei, [the Spring Festival Overture] resonates with all Chinese people.”

Yvonne Frindle © 2024

First performance: July 1956, in Beijing

First SLSO performance: December 31, 2019 with Stéphane Denève conducting

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, strings 

Approximate duration: 5 minutes 

Dai Wei

The Dancing Moonlight

Dai Wei

Born 1989 China

Dai Wei grew up in China and completed undergraduate studies in composition at the Xinghai Conservatory of Music before moving to the United States to study at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. She holds an Artist Diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music and is currently based in Princeton, where she’s pursuing a doctorate in Music Composition as a Naumburg Fellow. 

Dai Wei describes her music as being nourished by the Asian and Chinese ethnic cultures in many different ways. She navigates the tensions between East and West, classical and pop, electronic and acoustic, innovation and tradition, often drawing from Eastern philosophy and aesthetics to create works with contemporary resonance. In 2022, The Washington Post named her in “22 for ‘22: Composers and Performers to Watch This Year.”

The Dancing Moonlight was composed for the Lunar New Year in 2017 and premiered by the Curtis Symphony Orchestra while Dai Wei was a student there. In an energy-packed five minutes it reflects the range of her musical influences, including the propulsive rhythms of jazz and pop. 

Dai Wei writes that the music’s main inspiration was her “infatuation with a type of traditional dance music that originated from an ethnic group called Yi in Yunnan, China. I wanted this piece to carry a celebratory and energetic vibe while one is being nostalgic at the same time.…we are always looking at the same moon regardless of where we are.”

Yvonne Frindle © 2024

First performance: April 1, 2017, in Philadelphia, the Curtis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Conner Gray Covington

First SLSO performance: This concert

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, piano, strings 

Approximate duration: 5 minutes 

Tan Dun

Internet Symphony: "Eroica"

Tan Dun

Born 1957 Changsha, Hunan, China

This is a symphony in microcosm—each of its four continuous movements roughly a minute long—but its vision is big: encapsulating Tan Dun’s experience of a global music community and demonstrating the possibilities of online musical collaboration long before a pandemic made it essential. 

Internet Symphony, “Eroica” was commissioned for Google and YouTube’s inaugural YouTube Symphony Orchestra project—the world’s first collaborative online orchestra. From more than 3,000 auditions, the YTSO assembled 96 professional and amateur musicians from more than 30 countries and territories on six continents. The project culminated in a streamed performance from Carnegie Hall in April 2009, still available on YouTube. 

The “Eroica” of the title is Beethoven’s Third Symphony, and about two minutes in you’ll hear the opening motif from that work. Listen, too, for Tan Dun’s use of car parts in the percussion section. “W hen I was conceiving this work,” he wrote, “it was during the China Olympics. On the streets of New York, London, Beijing, Shanghai, I heard the noise of people cheering and moving around beautifully. I was passing by an automotive garage and I found three brake drums from different automobiles—these car parts—and it was a beautiful sound ... and I realized this is the spirit of the young. This is the spirit of today.” 

Also in the spirit of today is the almost cinematic quality of the music, with expansive gestures and full orchestral sound, and (“Eroica” again?) an action-hero spirit. “The Internet is an invisible Silk Road,” said Tan Dun of the YTSO project, “joining different cultures from around the world—East or West, North or South. And this project has created a classical music phenomenon, bringing together musical heroes from all corners of the globe.”

Yvonne Frindle © 2024

Internet premiere: October 6, 2008, the composer conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, streamed worldwide on YouTube

First live performance: April 15, 2009, at Carnegie Hall, New York, the composer conducting the 2009 YouTube Symphony Orchestra

First SLSO performance: This concert

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, strings 

Approximate duration: 4 minutes 

Maurice Ravel

Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas

Maurice Ravel

Born 1875, Ciboure, France

Died 1937, Paris, France

Maurice Ravel composed his Mother Goose music as a gift to Mimi and Jean Godebski, the piano-playing children of friends, although they were too shy to present its premiere and too young to regard the dedication as representing anything except hard work. The original piano duet was then expanded into an orchestral accompaniment for a ballet.

Inspired by baroque fairy tales (the title comes from Charles Perrault’s 1697 book, Contes de ma Mère l’Oye), Ravel created a miniature masterpiece modeled on the baroque suite, with each dance presenting a once-upon-a-time tale: a slumbering pavane, a slow waltz, a magical sarabande, and for the selection in this concert, a bustling march from the Far East.

The story Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas is from a collection by Perrault’s contemporary, Comtesse d’Aulnoy. A princess has been made ugly by a wicked witch—hence her name, which means “Ugly Little Girl.” With a Green Serpent (once a handsome prince), she sails to the land of the Pagodas, the name for a population of tiny articulated figurines, with bodies made of jewels and porcelain. Here the two travelers are restored to their former appearance and married. The scene described in the music is the Empress’s bath:

She undressed and stepped into the bath. Immediately the Pagodas and Pagodines began to sing and play their instruments: some had theorbos made of walnut shells, others had viols made of almond shells, for the instruments had to be made to their measure.

In its original version, Laideronette bathes to dainty motifs played entirely on the piano’s black keys, giving the music its characteristic Chinese sound. Ravel’s brilliant reworking for orchestra amplifies the effect with delicate and sophisticated colors.

Adapted from a note by Yvonne Frindle © 2002

Pagoda figurines

Ravel loved collecting mechanical toys and miniature ornaments for his home—the more artificial the better. He would guide visitors around his house at Montfort l’Amaury proudly pointing to each room: “In there, nothing but fake Chinese; in there, fake Japanese!”

It’s easy to imagine his collection containing a pagode or two. No, not miniature tiered towers as found throughout Asia, but porcelain figurines representing the idols that might be worshipped in such temples—at least according to the Europeans who crafted them. The popularity of pagodes or pagods in France had coincided with the rise of the chinoiserie style; the more elaborate versions were articulated so their heads would nod and their hands shake—not unlike the Fortune Cat with its beckoning paw, so popular in Chinese businesses. 

In Countess d’Aulnoy’s fairy tale, the pagodes were of all shapes and types, with bodies of “diamonds, emeralds, rubies, pearls, crystal, amber, coral, porcelain, gold, silver, brass, bronze, iron, wood, and clay.” How could Ravel resist illustrating these jewel-like animated figures in music! 

Nodding Pagod in Meissen hard-paste porcelain (c.1760) from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Open Access)

First performance (ballet): January 29, 1912 at the Théâtre des Arts, Paris

First SLSO performance: December 19, 1913, with Max Zach conducting

Most recent SLSO performance: October 6, 2019 with Gemma New conducting Instrumentation: flute, piccolo, oboe, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta, strings 

Approximate duration: 3 minutes 


George Frideric Handel

Overture from Music for the Royal Firework

George Frideric Handel

Born 1685 Halle, Germany

Died 1759 Westminster, London, England

George Frideric Handel composed his Music for the Royal Fireworks for a celebration of the Treaty of Aachen, which had ended the War of Austrian Succession in 1748. The first performance took place on April 27, 1749, and so many Londoners thronged to the Vauxhall Gardens for the public rehearsal that traffic on London Bridge was halted for three hours. The actual performance was something of a fizzer: some of the fireworks failed to ignite, a pavilion caught fire mid-show, and the stage designer drew his sword on the Comptroller of the Fireworks.

The original ensemble for this outdoor music was more military band than symphony orchestra, with more than 50 woodwind and brass instruments, but the following month the music was performed at the Foundling Hospital with Handel’s preferred formation: a smaller ensemble and including strings.

Handel modeled his suite on the outdoor music of Versailles and so the opening movement is a grand “ouverture” in the French style, characterized by alternations between slow, majestic music (Adagio) and faster sections (Allegro). The faster music provides opportunities for question-and-answer dialogue between the wind instruments.

Abridged from a note by Yvonne Frindle and David Garrett © 2019

First performance: April 27, 1749, in London

First SLSO performance: January 10, 1981, Raymond Leppard conucting

Most recent SLSO performance: December 8, 2019, Richard Egarr directing from the harpsichord

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (both doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 3 trumpets, timpani, percussion, strings 

Approximate duration: 9 minutes 

He Zhanhao

Liang Zhu (The Butterfly Lovers) Violin Concerto

He Zhanhao

Born 1933 Hajiasham, Zhuji, Zhejiang Province

In tonight’s performance, The Butterfly Lovers comes full circle: a concerto written for the violin is “reclaimed” by the very instrument the violinist is asked to emulate, the erhu—a Chinese two-string fiddle. The soloist in this concerto is also asked to imitate the extravagant but graceful techniques of a Yueju (or Shaoxing) opera singer—sliding between notes, for example, and expressive pulsating effects (vibrato).

That operatic influence is key to this work, which is driven by narrative and a poignant story of star-crossed lovers commonly referred to as the “Chinese Romeo and Juliet.” One of the concerto’s two composers, He Zhanhao, grew up listening to Yueju opera with his grandmother, and when, as a violin major at the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1950s, he was sent to perform in rural communities, he reached a turning point. “We performed the Western classical repertoire we learned in class to the farmers,” he recalled in a recent interview, “and even though they found the musical beautiful, they couldn’t appreciate it as they grew up listening to Chinese opera and folk songs.” His audiences didn’t understand Bach and Beethoven but they loved to hear Yueju. And so he set himself the challenge of using folk music with the violin, or in his words, trying to “nationalize the violin.”

Chen Gang

The Butterfly Lovers violin concerto, composed in collaboration with fellow student Chen Gang was the result—a combination of Chinese traditional themes with Western symphonic techniques— and it has become the most famous of all Chinese orchestral works.

It tells a traditional story of two lovers who grow up studying together—the girl disguised as a boy. When the boy, Liang Shanbo, later visits his friend, Zhu Yingtai, he discovers (to his delight) that she is a girl and (to his disappointment) about to enter an arranged marriage. Liang departs in sorrow and dies of despair. On Zhu’s wedding day, the procession passes Liang’s tomb. She pauses to mourn and at that moment a storm breaks and the tomb opens. Zhu leaps in before it can close again and, after the storm, two butterflies rise among the flowers: the lovers’ souls transformed and united forever.

In this performance we present an abridged version of the concerto, setting the scene with the romantic opening theme (attributed to He) before jumping to the climactic love duet between the erhu and a solo cello, and the transformative finale.

Yvonne Frindle © 2024

First performance: May 1959, in Shanghai with Fan Chengwu conducting the Shanghai Conservatory Symphony Orchestra and Yu Lina as soloist

First SLSO performance: This concert

Instrumentation: solo erhu, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, strings 

Approximate duration: 15 minutes 


Final scenes from The Firebird

Igor Stravinsky

Born 1882, Lomonosov, Russia

Died  1971, New York City

The Firebird was conceived for the 1910 season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris with a twofold goal: to create a true Russian ballet around a story drawn from Russian fairytales, and to achieve a harmonious blending of the arts—music, design, and dance. The collaborators included the choreographer Michel Fokine and designers Léon Bakst and Alexander Golovine, but the ultimate star of the show was the young Igor Stravinsky, composing his first ballet. As Diaghilev told Tamara Karsavina (who danced the Firebird): “Watch him closely. He is a man on the eve of celebrity.”

Towards the end of the ballet, the evil Kashchei captures Prince Ivan, who escapes being turned to stone by waving the feather the Firebird has given him. She appears, casting Kashchei’s retinue into a trance before hurling them headlong into the menacing Infernal Dance with its thrusting rhythms and irregular phrases separated by explosive chords. 

The Firebird moves among the exhausted dancers and with the ravishing Berceuse, or lullaby, charms them into a deep sleep. She then leads Ivan to a casket containing the egg that holds Kashchei’s immortal soul—a kind of Russian horcrux. He dashes the egg to the ground, the ogre expires, and the enchantments are undone.

The Finale celebrates the dissolution of Kashchei’s kingdom and the union of Ivan and his princess. Its horn theme is drawn from a traditional khorovod, or round dance, and the music is developed into a majestic hymn of thanksgiving with a glowing display of orchestral colors.

Abridged from a note by Yvonne Frindle © 2011

First performance of the ballet: June 25, 1910, at the Palais Garnier, Paris, conducted by 

Gabriel Pierné

First SLSO performance: November 15, 1914, Max Zach conducting excerpts

Most recent SLSO performance: March 13, 2022, Stéphane Denève conducting the 1919 suite

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano doubling celesta, strings 

Approximate duration: 12 minutes 

Norman Huynh

Norman Huynh


American conductor Norman Huynh is admired not only for his musicality and technical command, but for his dynamic presence, creative programming, and ability to connect with new audiences. The Music Director of the Bozeman Symphony Orchestra (Montana) since 2020, he regularly appears with distinguished orchestras and ensembles across North America, Europe, and Asia. In addition to the SLSO, he appears with the New York Philharmonic, San Diego Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Mobile Symphony Orchestra, Oregon Symphony, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra, among others.

In addition to working with stars of the world of classical music, his wide repertoire includes R&B, hip-hop and pop, and he has received acclaim for his work conducting films in concert, from An American in Paris to the Harry Potter series. 

A proud first generation Asian-American, Huynh’s passion for engaging new audiences reflects his own entry point to classical music as a 12-year-old “band geek” trombonist in Alabama, and his commitment to creating innovative opportunities for others to discover the arts. These include the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s popular Symphony and Spirits series, as well as the award-winning PSO Explorers Program, and in 2015 Huynh and the PSO earned the Yale Distinguished Music Educator Award.

In 2012, he co-founded and served as Music Director of the Occasional Symphony, a chamber orchestra that performs in non-traditional spaces. He was previously Associate Conductor of the Oregon Symphony and Assistant Conductor of the Portland (Maine) Symphony Orchestra. 

Huynh was one of six conductors invited to conduct the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra in the 2022 Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview. He is an alumnus of the Aspen Music Festival Conducting Academy and has studied with conductors as Robert Spano, Gustav Meier, and Marin Alsop. He was also mentored by the late Kurt Masur as a recipient of the prestigious Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy Scholarship.

Teachers include Marin Alsop, Gustav Meier, and Demondrae Thurman. The proud first-generation Asian-American splits his time between Portland and Bozeman, enjoying outdoor pursuits, including star-gazing, skiing, and riding his motorcycle.

Hadelich studied with Joel Smirnoff at the Juilliard School, and achieved a career breakthrough in 2006 when he won the International Violin Competition in Indianapolis. Since then he has received an Avery Fisher Career Grant, a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship, an honorary doctorate from the University of Exeter, and in 2018 was named Musical America Instrumentalist of the Year. He plays a violin by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù from 1744, known as “Leduc, ex Szeryng,” on loan from the Tarisio Trust.


Rulin Olivia Zhang

Rulin Olivia Zhang

Olivia Rulin Zhang made her St. Louis Symphony Orchestra debut at the Music Without Boundaries education and family concerts in 2023. Early in her musical career, she was Soloist and Concertmaster of Beijing’s top Youth Traditional Chinese Music Orchestra. After moving to the United States in 2009, she won the National Music category in the Vivaldi International Music Competition, and was Soloist and Concertmaster of the Houston Chinese Instruments Orchestra (2014–2016).

Zhang is a full-time Assurance Senior Manager at BDO USA, P.C., is treasurer of Artist Presentation Society, and is serving on the finance committee of the Asian American Chamber of Commerce in St. Louis. She is the 2023 Impact Award recipient for Outstanding Public Service, honored by the Missouri CPA Society, and 2022 Silver medal recipient of the Presidents’ Volunteer Service Award. She also received a certificate of appreciation from Missouri State Governor Mike Parson and the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations in recognition of her contributions to the 2023 Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration and for her commitment to promoting inclusion and diversity.

Zhang believes the love of music transcends linguistic and cultural barriers. She is enthusiastic about using her time and talent serving her Asian community and Professional Associations, and performing at cultural events, including Ascend National Convention opening plenary, STL Festival of Nations, Chinese Culture Day at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Missouri Asian American Bar Association Unity dinner, and the Missouri statewide celebration of Lunar New Year.


Program Notes are sponsored by Washington University Physicians.

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