Celebrate Asia! always manages to showcase the musical traditions of both the East and West in celebration of our region’s diverse Asian community. This year is no exception with a diverse range of talent including conductor Mei Ann Chen leading the Seattle Symphony. Soloists include UW Professor and trumpet virtuoso Cuong Vu, pipa player Jie Ma and violinist Hahn-Bin.
Taiwanese American conductor Mei-Ann Chen is currently serving as music director of the Chicago Sinfonietta and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. She played piano, violin and trumpet at a young age. She taught herself how to conduct by watching her conductor. She attended the New England Conservatory in Boston with a double degree in conducting and violin. She would go on to obtain a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Michigan. She has Northwest roots, conducting the Portland Youth Philharmonic and collaborating with the Oregon Symphony and Chamber Music Northwest. She would become the first woman to win the coveted Maiko Competition, which honors young conductors deserving greater recognition.
Like Yo Yo Ma has done for the cello by placing it in various genres of music and experimenting and collaborating with musicians of different styles around the world, pipa virtuoso Ma Jie has done the same for her traditional Chinese instrument. She grew up in a small town by the Silk Road in China. The pipa, or four-stringed lute, is considered one of China’s oldest instruments dating back to the second century B.C. She studied music at a young age and studied with several masters of the pipa. She graduated from Tianjin Conservatory of Music, one of China’s most prestigious music academies. Though steeped in tradition, Jie had an adventurous ear, listening to various genres of music from folk to rock, country and western. That ear would lead her to the U.S. where she currently lives and performs. She produced her first CD and founded her own company, CM Music.
Hahn-Bin was born in Seoul and started his study of the violin at age five. At the age of nine, he was the youngest student accepted to the Korean National University of Arts and made his orchestral debut with the Seoul Philharmonic at the age of ten. In 1999, he moved to the U.S. to study at the Colburn School and later studied with Itzhak Perlman at the Juilliard School. He won a prize at the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in 2009 and toured and performed all over the world. His performances are known for his unconventional interpretations of classical music and his juxtapositions of classical and postmodern music. His physical appearance is equally striking with a shaved head topped off by a manicured point of black hair that sticks out like the tip of a stiff calligraphy brush.
Local trumpet player Cuong Vu earned honors in a nationally recognized high school jazz program in a Puget Sound area noted for solid high school jazz programs. From there he moved to New York where he would thrive playing and composing original music in a variety of settings. A few years ago, Vu returned to Seattle to accept a post teaching jazz at UW. Since then he has continued a flurry of musical activity starting and leading a number of bands with his students and colleagues and issuing a number of recordings. His commission to compose an original work in honor of another local jazz great, Quincy Jones, should be a highlight of this year’s Celebrate Asia! evening.
The Celebrate Asia! concert is on Friday, Feb. 24 at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle. There will be a pre-concert program at 6:30 p.m. with the official concert starting at 7:30 p.m. Go to www.celebrateasia.org for details.