Starving for Strings
Concerts & Clubs / In a city without a symphony, maybe this will ease Honolulu’s withdrawals. The China National Orchestra ranks among the world’s top orchestras, despite the fact that its 80-plus members play almost none of the instruments usually heard in the Blaisdell. The touring group almost exclusively plays traditional Chinese instruments, with a cello section to hold the low end.
The orchestra was formed in 1960 by composer Li Huanzhi, but the tradition of orchestras in China dates back 3,000 years, with some of the same instruments being found in Shang dynasty tombs.
With China’s 1.3 billion-person population, the musicians selected by the national government are the cream of a very big crop, so it is no surprise that the performances are stunningly brilliant. The instruments are exotic but familiar: The erhu, a relative of the violin, features prominently in big-budget Chinese films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The pipa, guitar’s cousin, has the delicacy of butterflies dancing on the string. In short, the sounds and tunes are enchanting.
The orchestra is one of the few cultural groups allowed to tour outside China, and they stop by on the way to the mainland as part of their annual tour.