East-meets-West with a world premiere by Richard Karpen, featuring The Six Tones on traditional Vietnamese instruments and electric guitar. Rehearsal photo from Seattle Symphony Facebook page.
East-meets-West with a world premiere by Richard Karpen, featuring The Six Tones on traditional Vietnamese instruments and electric guitar. Rehearsal photo from Seattle Symphony Facebook page.

“Celebrate Asia,” an annual classical concert at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle, will be celebrating its sixth anniversary when performers take the stage Friday, March 21.

Celebrate Asia was started by Yoshi Minegishi when he was a Seattle Symphony board member. Minegishi felt there wasn’t enough Asian community involvement in the arts and sought to create a way to get the community more connected. The concert now stands as the only event of its kind where eight Asian communities cooperate to bring together outstanding Asian and Asian American musicians from the classical and ethnic music worlds.

Julia Tai will be this year’s guest conductor. Tai earned her doctorate from the University of Washington. She is music director of Philharmonia Northwest and co-founder and co-artistic director of Seattle Modern Orchestra. Tai guest conducts around the country and serves as music director of a church in Magnolia. This will mark her Seattle Symphony debut.

Guest musicians include Haochen Zhang, Nguyen Thanh Thuy, Ngo Tra My, and Stefan Ostersjo.

Zhang, of Shanghai, will be making his Seattle debut. He won the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition at age 19.

Nguyen Thanh Thuy plays the dan tranh, the 17-stringed Vietnamese zither. She is active in both traditional and experimental fields of music. She currently teaches at Vietnam National Academy of Music.

Ngo plays the dan bau or one-string guitar. It is one of only two traditional instruments of purely Vietnamese origin and is a central component to Vietnamese folk music. Ngo studied and graduated from Hanoi Conservatory of Music. She is a board member of the Asian/Korean Orchestra and performs all over the world.

Ostersjo is one of the prominent soloists within the new music scene in Sweden. He studied at the Malmo Academy of Music and Peder Riis and Magnus Andersson in Stockholm and Darmstadt. He has numerous recordings in the classical and experimental categories.

This year’s concert celebrates the cultures of China, Vietnam, and Japan. The program includes several world premieres. Pieces include Toru Takemitsu’s “Three Film Scores for String Orchestra,” Richard Karpen’s “Nam Mai,” a piece for Vietnamese and Western plucked instruments and string orchestra, Shuying Li’s “Overture to The Siege,” and Edvard Greig’s “Piano Concerto in A Minor, op 16.”

Takemitsu was the most prominent Japanese modern composer of the 20th century. His “Three Film Scores for String Orchestra” includes music from a documentary film on boxer Jose Torres, a film score for Shohei Imamura’s “Black Rain” set in the aftermath of Hiroshima, and a score for the film, “Face of Another,” adapted from the novel by Kobe Abe as directed by the late Hiroshi Teshigahara (“Woman in the Dunes”).

Richard Karpen, director of the UW School of Music, composed “Nam Mai” for three soloists, nineteen string instruments, and film. It was originally composed for The Six Tones (Nguyen, Ngo and Ostersjo), a Vietnamese/Swedish Trio. It is based on a traditional Vietnamese tune.

Composer, conductor, and pianist Shuying Li is currently pursuing her MFA at the Hartt School. Prior to that she completed a double major at Shanghai Conservatory of Music. “Overture to The Siege” is her own composition to her opera which was selected by the judges of the Celebrate Asia Composition Competition. It makes its Seattle debut.

The great Scandinavian composer Edvard Greig composed his “Piano Concerto in A Minor, op 16” when he was just 24. It is imbued with the folk tunes of his native Norway.

There will be a 6:30 p.m. pre-concert in the Grand Lobby by Chaopraya Ensemble, Kalahi Philippine Dance Company, Northwest Kung Fu & Fitness, and more. The official concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start from $19. Benaroya Hall is at 200 University St. in downtown Seattle. For more information, call (206) 215-4747 or visit SeattleSymphony.org.

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