Shanghai Symphony Orchestra celebrates 140th anniversary in Chicago

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The early evening rain on Friday did not deter spectators from packing the pavilion and wet lawn at Ravinia in the northern suburb of Chicago to attend the concert presented by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra (SSO).

The concert featured both Chinese and Western music, including leading Chinese composer Chen Qigang's "Wu Xing" (The Five Elements) and Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances."

Renowned cello soloist Alisa Weilerstein performed Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B minor.

The audience's reaction to Weilerstein was so enthusiastic that she played the Chinese piece "Song to the Moon" in an encore, which also received a standing ovation.

SSO is on a three-week world tour in celebration of its 140th anniversary and the concert at Ravinia is its second performance in the United States.

Conductor Yu Long told Xinhua that it was his second time in Chicago. He was guest conductor for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) in 2007, and was thrilled to be here with SSO this time around.

"CSO has been to Shanghai many times," said Yu. "This is the first time for SSO to be in Chicago. It's very important to us."

Yu said that he wants the Chicago audience to hear the best of Chinese music and learn more about Shanghai.

"Music is a universal language, and musicians are real ambassadors," said Yu.

Each of the concerts received standing ovations. In the end, the concert had three encores, finishing with "America the Beautiful."

"The concert is expansive and wonderful," said Judy Fulop from Northbrook, Illinois. "The concert is like moving through East and West. I love the Chinese pieces."

Seventy-seven-year-old Douglas Cohen was at the concert with his wife and a few friends. "It's fabulous for us to see an orchestra with 140 years of history," Cohen said. "The performance is beautiful."

Cohen added that "Chicago has CSO, so we have a good comparison."

"They are both wonderful," he continued. "I hope they (SSO) will come back to perform again."

Zhou Ping, president of SSO, told Xinhua that 130 people from SSO are on the tour.

"To perform at Ravinia is very special for us," said Zhou. "Not only because it's our anniversary, but also because Ravinia presents high level concerts."

"Western music was introduced to China... 140 years ago," Zhou said. "Now we are introducing more Chinese work to the world and more worldwide music to China."

Since the 1970s, SSO has toured internationally and was the first Chinese ensemble to perform at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland in 2017, said Zhou.

SSO started it three-week world tour in the United States this year, with the first concert staged at Wolf Trap in Washington D.C.

After Ravinia, the orchestra will leave for Europe to perform at several music festivals, including the Edinburgh International Festival and Lucerne Festival, before finishing at BBC Proms.

Ravinia, a 36-acre park in the northern suburb of Chicago, hosts one of the oldest music festivals in North America. 

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