Monday, February 13, 2012

The Right Dragon for the New Year

The Right Dragon for the New Year
JANUARY 26, 2012

With its Chinese New Year Celebration on Tuesday night, the New York Philharmonic may have launched a new tradition. The evening was the first time the orchestra set a gala event around the Chinese holiday, and the new addition to the social calendar raised more than $1 million.

The evening also expanded the Philharmonic's outreach efforts: about two-thirds of the gala guests were first-time donors or ticket buyers. "We've had a large turnout from the Chinese community," said gala co-chair Lizabeth Newman.

On a fashion note, the evening's theme allowed for guests to wear some of their boldest, most colorful finery. "New Yorkers are always so head-to-toe black," said attendee Harold Koda, curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute. "It lets women wear all their color. It really lights up the room."

Embroidered coats and red silk dresses, such as one worn by board member Karen LeFrak, were abundant, but the brightest color of the night came from the yellow-and-green dragon manned by the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company.

"I said: 'We need a dragon.' [Gala co-chair] Shirley Young found the right dragon," said Ms. LeFrak.

The evening's program was a surprising step above standard gala fare. Led by guest conductor Long Yu of the China Philharmonic Orchestra, the N.Y. Philharmonic played several works of Chinese orchestral music that illustrated how percussion and strings can be employed with Eastern inflection. Celebrated pianist Lang-Lang playing a rousing Liszt concerto, but the show-steeling act was the Quintessenso Mongolian Children's Choir, a group of 22 children aged 8 to 12 from Northeastern China's Hulun Buir Grassland. Dressed in traditional tribal costumes, they were adorable just standing in their stage stances, but their performance of folk songs and nursery rhymes—plus their encore of "America the Beautiful"—showed them to be artists in the making.

Following the concert, guests sat down to dinner on the second-floor lobby of Avery Fisher Hall. Soprano Renee Fleming, who attended as a guest, enthusiastically greeted one of the concert's soloists, Junqiao Tang, who had turned playing the traditional bamboo flute into an act of grace and glamour.

Though the evening overlapped with President Obama's State of the Union address, the subject didn't seem to weigh too heavily after the concert.

"I'll read it in the paper," Ms. Newman said. "I did have one guest who was invited to attend the speech, and I said, 'You should go to that.'"

Write to Pia Catton at

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