Although the program that the China Broadcasting Film Symphony Orchestra has assembled for its return to Vancouver looks festive, we can’t help but think conductor–artistic director Pang Ka Pang has missed an opportunity to link it to the upcoming lunar new year. According to the Chinese zodiac, 2018 is the year of the dog, and who wouldn’t want to hear live interpretations, with accompanying film, of the soundtracks to 101 Dalmatians, Lassie Come Home, or, of course, Beethoven?
Reached in Pudong, China, where he’s rehearsing with the coastal financial centre’s resident orchestra, Pang laughs when the Georgia Straight runs that notion by him, with the help of his assistant and translator, Julie Chou. But for now he’s going to stick with his original plan: leading the Beijing-based ensemble through an assortment of scores from worldwide movie hits such as Braveheart, Casablanca, and Pirates of the Caribbean, alongside pieces that the orchestra recorded for China’s own burgeoning film industry. (Established in 1949, the orchestra has been responsible for more than 2,000 film, dance, and theatre soundtracks.)
Pang readily admits that his Cinema in Concert program is aimed primarily at overseas Chinese. “The orchestra is very famous, and all the people like it,” he says through Chou. “And the Chinese in Canada, the residents, they want to listen to film music, including western films and also Chinese films. They want to hear both. But the main thing is that I’m using Chinese film music.”
At press time, it wasn’t clear which Chinese films will be featured at the orchestra’s Orpheum concert, although Pang says they will be familiar to enthusiasts of Asian cinema. For non-Chinese cineastes, then, the evening will offer a chance to survey that country’s greatest movie hits—and for people whose tastes run toward sound more than screen, there are other inducements to go.
Just as Hollywood’s soundtrack industry persuaded many top musicians to head west during the 1930s and ’40s, the China Broadcasting Film Symphony Orchestra has given many of China’s most gifted instrumentalists steady employment. And Maestro Pang hasn’t limited himself to film scores. As a student in 1996, he won the prestigious Kondrashin Master Class Award, and he has since won kudos from sources as diverse as Austrian music critic Cinco Vicki, who praised his “uniquely elegant style”, and North Korea’s minister of culture An Tong-chun, who was apparently deeply impressed by his performance at a 2011 music festival in that isolated country. “He is the conductor that has most moved me,” the senior bureaucrat pronounced. Pang is also emerging as a leading advocate for contemporary Chinese symphonic music, and plans to return to Canada later in 2018 with an all-Chinese program of orchestral scores.
Leading the CBFSO through a celebratory selection of film soundtracks must seem like a bit of a holiday compared to some of his other assignments, but Pang says that’s not entirely the case.
“There are many tempo changes and different kinds of mood, and I need to change them very fast,” he explains. “Also, each piece lasts only 10 to 15 minutes, but I need to tell people everything in the film during that time. So it’s a challenge!”
The China Broadcasting Film Symphony Orchestra presents Cinema in Concert at the Orpheum on January 12, 2018.