Starry nights on stage

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From popular children's choir to Peking Opera, cultural carnival promises a surge of nostalgia as the People's Republic of China celebrates its anniversary.

The Forbidden City Concert Hall is pulsating with excitement. The popular performing arts venue at Zhongshan Park in Beijing is hosting a series of shows this fall to mark the 73rd anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

The cultural festival kicked off with a concert on Saturday by the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of conductor Fan Tao. It featured compositions adapted from popular movie scores by American composer John Williams, such as Star Wars and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Through the upcoming weeklong National Day holiday next month and up until December, the venue will host 16 shows covering a wide range of performing arts, including classical music, dance and Peking Opera.

On Saturday, the orchestra, led by conductor Zheng Jian, will perform for the first time with the all-male Beijing Master Choir. According to orchestra director Meng Haidong, the concert will be a surge of nostalgia for music lovers. "The Chinese songs prepared for the concert were all released between the 1960s and the '80s, and they mirrored the development of the country," Meng says.

Conductor Yang Li will lead two concerts by the Beijing Philharmonic Choir on Sunday, one each in the afternoon and late evening. The famous children's choir was founded in 1983 by Yang's father, the late Yang Hongnian, a veteran musician and music educator. The group had performed at the opening ceremonies of the Beijing 2008 Olympics and Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

"Choral music is well-received by Chinese audiences. We will perform popular children's songs, and will have the audiences sing along," Yang Li says.

The highlight of the choir's program is Let Us Sway Twin Oars, a song that featured in the 1955 Chinese movie Flowers of Our Motherland, regarded as the first children's flick after 1949. Listening to Mother Telling Stories in the Past, a children's song released in 1957, and Snowflakes, the theme song of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, are on the list too.

Songs by Chinese ethnic groups will also be performed at the concert to celebrate the unique diversity of the country's culture, Yang Li adds.

Star performers of the Jingju Theater Company of Beijing will take center stage on Monday with a dedication to contemporary Peking Opera composed by Zhu Shaoyu. The 76-year-old has been composing for the genre for five decades and one of his best-known works is Peking Opera Red Cliff, which premiered in 2008 and toured both home and abroad.

Peking Opera, or jingju, has a history of more than 200 years and was recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010. It brings together a multitude of art forms, including singing, dancing, martial arts and acrobatics.

Wang Rongrong, a Peking Opera artist who has been working with Zhu since 1992, is among the star attractions. "This genre of opera has developed over two centuries. Composers have played a key role in keeping the old art form alive by adding contemporary touches," says Wang, who has been working with the theater company for four decades.

"Zhu's music showcases the beauty of each different singing style of Peking Opera. The compositions remarkably involve several traditional Chinese musical instruments including the erhu, bamboo flute and drum," she adds.

Other highlights of the cultural extravaganza include a French concert by soprano Zhang Liping, a crossover performance by pipe organ player Shen Yuan and dancer-choreographer Wang Yabin, and a show by Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre. This is the only professional platform in northern China dedicated to Kunqu, an extant form of Chinese opera with a history of around 600 years and another UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.

Chorale No 2 in B Minor, by Belgian-born French romantic composer Cesar Franck, will be performed during the Shen and Wang Yabin crossover show on Dec 2 to mark the composer's 200th birth anniversary.

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