Approaching a decade of life, the Savannah Philharmonic continues to grow and deepen its connection to the local community.
In the penultimate chamber concert of the Philharmonic's ninth season, "Chinese New Year Treasures," principal violas LiZhou Liu and Yvonne Johnson will present a celebration of Chinese culture featuring music handpicked by Liu.
Liu is a Chinese-American who has been with the Philharmonic since its inception. He studied music at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and was the principal viola with the Beijing Chamber Orchestra. He was part of a lighter presentation of Chinese symphonic music a couple of years ago, which received a good reception. After that concert, he had the idea of doing something larger to honor his homeland, and as a way to introduce Chinese music to the Savannah community.
"Savannah is a very historic and multicultural city," Liu said. "China in the last 10, 20 years, the economic thing everyone knows, but the culture, the music is not really familiar. Most of the people have not heard Chinese music. I am not talking about New York, or Los Angeles; it's popular there. I've been wanting to do this for a long time."
Teaming up with Savannah's Chu family, Liu is hoping the concert will serve to build a bridge between Chinese culture, the Philharmonic and the Savannah community as a whole. To that end, the Chus, one of Savannah's oldest families, will be helping to spread the joy of the Chinese New Year during a post-concert reception.
"The Savannah Philharmonic is very young, not quite 10 years yet," Liu said. "We're still trying to expand and bring more people together and develop. The Chinese community, we've never reached. This is a bridge. In many aspects, it's very beneficial. You teach them the culture and the classical symphony."
The concert will feature seven pieces of Chinese music, all composed in the last century, that span through a wide variety of celebratory music, political stories and traditional love songs. To help explain the pieces to the audience, Liu has recruited his friend Qiwei Sun to narrate the concert.
"The [Chinese] culture isn't quite known here, yet," Liu said. "Just want to introduce it the community. Also, bring the Chinese community to the symphonic classical music. That's pretty important. It's good and positive for everybody. We're going to wear Chinese outfits; Chu family is going to decorate like a New Year."
Furthering the bridge-building effort, Garrison school principal, James Heater, helped arrange for 65 local Chinese exchange students and their host families to attend the presentation. In China, the New Year can be equivalent to Christmastime in the United States, according to Liu. It is a time for family and celebration. Since the exchange students are not with their families, Liu sees this as an opportunity for them to celebrate an important holiday.
"It's like Christmas in China," Liu said. "You enjoy New Year: Talking, family, friends. Since they're here, they don't have anything. It's kind of lonely. This event, we want it to be not too far from that. Give them food, music and the environment sounds like China. Give them a feel of home."
In a last-minute addition, the Chinese consulate office in Houston is also sending counselors of culture Fei Xie and Haiyong Gu to Savannah for the concert.
IF YOU GO
What: "Chinese New Year Treasures, Chamber Concert No. 5"
When: 6 p.m. Feb. 16
Where: Garrison School's Yamacraw Center for the Performing Arts, 649 W. Jones St.