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The eclectic sounds of China at the Melbourne Lunar New Year concert

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In the past five years, conductor and composer Tan Dun has held his iconic Lunar New Year Concert in Melbourne. This year the concert has transcended the boundaries between east and west, tradition and modernity, legacy and innovation.

Collaborating with Chinese pop star Tan Weiwei, they produced a concert intertwined with Huayin old tunes, new wave rock and traditional classic music.

"The most unique aspect of our concert this year is its experimental elements," says Mr Tan. 

"We reinvented the Chinese tradition, rendering it into something avant-garde, pioneering rather than simply adapting the western system and structure. I think this would be something very exciting for music lovers around the world, including those from a Western Classical background."

- Tan Dun, composer

During the East Meets West-Chinese New Year Concert, Mr Tan's latest work, Song Lines of China was world-premiered, drawing inspiration from the Australian Indigenous culture.

"My initial connection with Australia was largely through the Indigenous culture. I have been particularly fascinated by some interesting cultural concepts, such as songlines and dreaming. I came across something very similar when exploring ethnomusicology in China. I was inspired," Mr Tan says.

As a commercially successful composer and conductor, Mr Tan returned to this year's Lunar New Year concert, presenting a creative repertoire featuring Tan Weiwei, Xiao Di (Peking Opera Soprano), Liu Wenwen (suona) and Ralph Van Raat (piano).

"They are muses; they are gifted with everything. Beyond imagination."

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This concert was Tan Weiwei's first Melbourne performance. She performed at various Lunar New Year gala shows, making appearances at five different TV networks, dominating the screen during the celebratory period in China.

Despite being petite, she managed to enchant audiences with her vocal strength and range.

"This will be my first time collaborating with a Symphony Orchestra," says Ms Tan.

"I am a pop singer, so it will be my first proper classical experience. My previous gigs mostly fell into the pop category. I feel very honoured and privileged to be able to work with the world class orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra."

- Tan Weiwei, singer

Ms Tan has come a long way, and began in the music world without any social privilege.

"When I express myself through music, I like to bring in something very real and truthful from my own life experience."

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Suona player Liu Wenwen performed Guan Xia’s 100 Birds Flying towards the Phoenix. Her level of mastery and precision won her a storm of applause.

The suona is by no means a popular musical instrument in China, but Ms Liu considers herself lucky to be born into a family with the suona legacy.

Practicing the suona from an early age, she soon began formal music training and started to tour with her musician parents.

"What has attracted me the most about suona is its traditional element. It is unique in China and you can't find it anywhere else. Even in China, there is a very limited number of people who can play."

- Liu Wenwen, suona player

The Lunar New Year concert was the first time that Ms Liu collaborated with a world-class Symphony Orchestra in Hamer Hall, a landmark concert venue in Melbourne.

"It was my first collaboration with a Symphony Orchestra. It was quite nerve-racking."

From The Martial Arts Trilogy to Nu Shu: The Secrete Songs of Women to Southern Music: Silk Road on Water to this year's Song Lines, Tan Dun's Lunar New Year concert has been one of Melbourne's most anticipated cultural events amalgamating both east and the west.

"We need wisdom to promote Chinese culture. And this wisdom should be something inventive, full of creativity. It is not simply about chanting a slogan if you are to revitalise a tradition that is slowly disappearing. And it is not easy. You need to study and ponder," said Mr Tan.

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