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Together We Are! shines spotlight on three monumental local musicians in heartfelt Lunar New Year concert

17 Desktop_Ginalina-LunarFest Concert Together We Are
Jirong Huang, Ginalina, and Sarah Tan performed three songs together at the Orpheum Theatre for a Lunar New Year concert.

A friend once told me about the “rule of three”. He was referring to the wisdom of making only three points in any presentation to avoid confusing people. I’ve decided borrow this “rule of three” in reviewing last night’s Together We Are! concert at the Orpheum.

LunarFest Vancouver presented this memorable and emotional event to usher in the Year of the Rabbit. The concert featured impressive performances by Harmonia String Ensemble, Vivaldi Choir, Out in Harmony, and the West Vancouver youth group WVYB Symphonic Strings.

They all touched hearts, truly bringing the audience, musicians, and singers together. This was particularly so in the final two numbers—John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Oscar Peterson’s “Hymn to Freedom”—with everyone on stage and every member of the choir masked to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Harmonia delivered outstanding performances of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Divertimento in F major, 1st and 3rd Movements and Karl Jenkins’s Palladio, made famous in a DeBeers TV advertisement. With WVYB Symphonic Strings they also played “Alishan”, a composition by Taiwanese composer Lee Che-yi about a beautiful mountain range.

But for me, this concert really left a mark for showcasing three monumentally talented artists living in Metro Vancouver: Ukrainian concert pianist Anna Sagalova, 11-year-old violin virtuoso Arianna Stott, and family folksinger-songwriter and three-time Juno nominee Ginalina.

Anna Sagalova
Star concert pianist Anna Sagalova moved to Vancouver to flee the war in Ukraine.

Three soloists and solidarity with Ukraine

Let’s start with Sagalova, who had to flee her home in Kharkiv when the Russian army invaded her country.

Prior to the war, she was an associate professor at Kharkiv I.P. Kotlyarevsky National University of Arts. Now, Sagalova is a refugee, according to Harmonia conductor Nicholas Urquhart.

“While we give her refuge in our country—and she has that safety—what we’re providing today for her is the refuge of her being actually able to realize her true self,” Urquhart said in his introduction. “When you hear her play, you will realize that she is a world-class talent and she would be touring Europe and Asia. And this was her career about a year ago.”

Sagalova performed one of Frédéric Chopin’s most challenging pieces, Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante in E-flat major, Op. 22. It’s the same composition that closed the Oscar-winning film, The Pianist, and was unveiled by the Polish-born composer in Paris in 1835.

Nineteenth-century Polish pianist and journalist Jan Kleczyński once declared: “There is no composition stamped with greater elegance, freedom, and freshness.”

Words cannot convey the magic of Sagalova’s interpretation, which opened with the familiar romantic and dreamy nocturne. The pianist skillfully maintained rhythm with her left hand while creating melody with her right hand. Over time, Sagalova transitioned into enchanting arpeggios, leaving me and others gobsmacked by her talent. It was simply awe-inspiring.

Watch Anna Sagalova perform with Harmonia.

Stott delivers stunning performance

This alone made the concert worthwhile. But then there was Stott, a Port Coquitlam wunderkind with the violin.

She first took the stage with Harmonia to perform Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for 4 Violins in B minor. But that was just the hors d’oeuvre.

The main course was Stott’s captivatingly confident interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Violin Concerto in E major. After Stott’s daring and technically dazzling performance, Urquhart reminded the audience of whom they had just heard. “If you’re looking for a name to Google—Arianna Stott,” the conductor said. “That’s who that 11-year-old violin player was. Yeah, she’s won competitions. Just Google her.”

Watch Arianna Stott’s performance with Harmonia.

Ginalina shows what Vancouver can aspire to

Finally, a review of this concert wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the brilliance of Ginalina. With Ji Rong Huang on erhu and Sarah Yu Sha Tan on guzheng, the Vancouver singer-songwriter performed songs from her newest album, Going Back: Remembered and Remixed Family Folk Songs.

She opened the entire concert with the title track, a poignant earworm about how nice it is to visit to one’s ancestral homeland. I’ve heard “Going Back” a few times now, and its upbeat message and catchy arrangement always stay with me after the final chord.

In this and many other songs, the charismatic Ginalina effortlessly switches between English and Mandarin (and French, when the situation calls for this), making her a trilingual triple threat. She even recorded a song in Taiwanese on her new disc, a tribute to her heritage.

Back in 1974, U.S. music critic Jon Landau famously wrote that he had seen rock ‘n’ roll’s future and its name was Bruce Springsteen. Well, I’ve seen Ginalina and I can confidently declare that she is what we should aspire for the future of Vancouver: a city that’s smart, compassionate, creative, outward looking, multilingual, and respectful of everyone’s heritage.

Watch Ginalina sing “Going Back” at the Together We Are! concert.

Friends are like sunshine to the soul

Her song “Going Back” is so heartfelt and so fitting for this city. With half the population hailing from other countries, Ginalina has created an inclusive musical gem with lyrics like “Going back is nice/Back to where grandma’s dreams began/Back to stories from forgotten lands”.

With the addition of Huang’s jaunty erhu and Tan’s masterful guzheng, you could feel waves of nostalgia emanating from the Orpheum stage.

Ginalina and Friends followed that up with the second track from the new album, “Find a Friend (Zhao Peng You)”. It’s her adaptation of an old Chinese nursery rhyme, mostly performed in Mandarin and offering Tan a chance to show off her musical skills.

I didn’t understand the Chinese lyrics but the English words resonated.

“Friends are like sunshine to the soul/Keeping us warm where we go/Make some new and keep the old/Those are silver, these are gold,” Ginalina sang.

Ginalina also offered up a spectacular solo performance of “My Family Keeps Me Warm” from her Small But Mighty album. With her soaring voice speaking of love and connection, it was an ideal choice for Lunar New Year—a time when so many families gather around the world.

Ginalina will perform songs from her new album with the Chinese Music Ensemble at 2 p.m. on February 26 at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Tickets are available here. Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.