Review: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Chinese New Year Concert [Rescheduled, 13th of March 2021]

20 March 2021

It was a beautiful Melbourne evening (read: raining and cold), when a friend and I, armed with a picnic blanket and my slightly broken umbrella, squelched along the grass to the always iconic Sidney Myer Music Bowl. 

Walking amongst the little metal scaffolds, we looked for our seats but were unable to find them. We asked a friendly usher, only to be told we were meant to be in the stalls! We looked at each other in happy disbelief. Huge shout out to MSO’s wonderful publicist Ali for allocating us such amazing seats! Not only were we much more protected from the rain, but we had an amazing view of the stage and got to witness fancy people having food brought to them (though I admit everything looks less fancy when everyone is wrapped in plastic ponchos). 

Thirteen-year-old violin prodigy Christian Li opened the performance with Spring from The Four Seasons by Vivaldi. In 2020 Christian became the youngest artist ever signed by the Decca Classics record label, and it is blaringly obviously why. He is ridiculously talented, even if you don’t take into account that he’s still three years away from his learner’s permit. To play at such a professional level, and with so much spirit too! He was not only a joy to listen to but a joy to witness, his passion for music on full display. 

Pipa player Yang Ying’s Moonlit Night on Spring River by Zuqiang Wu was the performance I wish I recorded the most, but at the same time, I could not bring myself to take out my phone and thus interrupt the trance I was in. Simply gorgeous. No other description necessary. 

Angela Li’s Grande Polonaise Brillante by Chopin was clearly much anticipated given the applause she received the moment she stepped on stage. I learnt why immediately. It reflects a complete mastery of craft. 

MSO, conducted by the brilliant Benjamin Northey, also performed Beethoven’s The Creatures of Prometheus: Overture and Xiaogang Ye’s The Faint Gingkgo, each composition played wonderfully and with true spirit and passion. For the encore, the orchestra concluded with Chinese folk song The Jasmine Flower, the announcement of which brought genuinely delightful sounds of surprise from the audience. It brought goosebumps (separate from those of the cold) and a few tears to me. 

Those reactions: happy sounds of surprise, goosebumps and a few tears, perfectly sum up the evening for me. My only complaint is that I only got to experience it for 90 minutes. That feeling where you’re so happily immersed in a stream of sound that you forget how long ago the performance started – that’s how it was. 

As a video played during the evening highlighted, the last year has been a difficult one for MSO and the Arts in general. I feel so lucky to have even witnessed such a performance, knowing it’s still far from reality in so many places. 

After a year spent at home in regional Queensland, it also reminded me of why I chose to come back to Melbourne. For uni yes, but also to experience things like this. To be surrounded by people so happy to be there, listening to musicians so grateful to be performing again, all celebrating Chinese-Australian culture and music and talent from around the world; isn’t that exactly what we all need more of, especially in times like these? 

It was the Arts that helped so many of us maintain our sanity during lockdown – music, movies, reading; even something as simple as colouring-in. But protecting the Arts and valuing them is still so often see as a luxury. It’s not. MSO’s performance was emblematic of that.


Image sourced from the official MSO website. 

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