Rabbit hops into Davies as San Francisco Symphony celebrates Chinese New Year

For the 11th year, the San Francisco Symphony is celebrating the approach of the Lunar New Year in Davies Hall with Chinese and Western music, lion dancers, arts and crafts and a children’s party.

Saturday’s festivities precede the Year of the Rabbit, which runs from Feb. 3 through Jan. 22, 2012 — the calm and peaceful rabbit follows the fearless and fiery tiger.

Taiwan-born conductor Carolyn Kuan, until recently the associate conductor of the Seattle Symphony, leads the orchestra again in this year’s concert.

The program includes contemporary composer Tan Dun’s “Overture: Dragon and Phoenix from Heaven Earth Mankind,” commissioned for the Hong Kong transfer of sovereignty ceremonies in 1997, and traditional Chinese works “Fung Yang Drum Song” and “Plum Blossoms in the Snow.”

Using the Mongolian morin khuur, or horse-hair fiddle, Li Bo performs his own composition, “The Tale of Matou Qin,” based on an ancient folk tale about the creation of the instrument.

For the Western music portion of the concert, Australian-Chinese Ray Chen, a young but already world-famous violin virtuoso, is the soloist in Beethoven’s Romance for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 and Pablo de Sarasate’s  “Zigeunerweisen” (Gypsy Airs).

Chen, 22, won the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2009 and the Yehudi Menuhin Competition in 2008. Uniquely, he is one of the few musicians to have owned two priceless Stradivarius violins — the 1708 “Huggins” and the 1721 “MacMillan” (Stradivarius instruments have their own names).

And he may be the only violinist ever who returned a Strad (the Huggins) to the benefactor who donated it to him — because he felt guilty having two and couldn’t  justify keeping both, he said, “when I can only play on one at any given time.”

Another young virtuoso who made her San Francisco debut at a Chinese New Year concert was pianist Yuja Wang, in 2005, at age 18. She will return to Davies Hall this summer, in the prestigious Project San Francisco residency.

A lobby reception precedes Saturday’s concert, which will be followed by refreshments. Afterward, an Imperial Dinner will be served in the City Hall Rotunda.

If you go

Chinese New Year Concert and Celebration
Presented by San Francisco Symphony

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $25 to $65
Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org
Note: A preconcert reception begins at 3 p.m.

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