Canadian Brass perform LIVE on China's famed Hunan TV Spring Festival Gala
Canadian Brass back in China by Eric Reed
In 40+ years of music-making, the Canadian Brass have reached many milestones: becoming the first chamber ensemble to perform in the main auditorium at Carnegie Hall, recording over 90 albums, and being the first Western arts group invited to enter China, among many others. A couple weeks ago, however, the group set a record even for itself by performing live for an estimated half billion people! As Chuck points out, this beats our previous record audience at the Johnny Carson Show by about 450 million!
We arrived in Changsha, the headquarters of Hunan TV, under a thick mist and surrounded by exotic sights, sounds and smells, and immediately started rehearsing. The Spring Festival, a 15-day-long celebration of the Chinese New Year, had already begun, and there were only a couple days to get acclimated before performing for the largest audience any of us had even conceived of.
Thanks to our Shanghai-based agent, Wray Armstrong (also Canadian!) and his team on the ground, we navigated menus and dimly-lit streets alike. Without them, it would have been a very different trip! Despite not being a major city in China, Changsha has an astounding population of 6.5 million residents, more than the Greater Toronto Area. The main draw to Changsha is that it is former Chairman Mao Zedong’s birthplace. We even sampled his favorite dish, spicy pork belly, which was also a hit with the Brass, especially Eric.
The TV show itself was on a scale not unlike the spectacular Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing in 2008. There were hundreds of costumed young ladies swooning for Brandon and Chris behind thescenes, Chinese pop groups (whose passing made those same ladies all scream), dance troupes, acrobats–including a Macao-based Cirque du Soleil, well-known English singer Sarah Brightman, comedians, magicians, choruses, fireworks and lasers. The sheer scale of the warehouse-sized studio (and its PACKED 6000+ seating) was astonishing. It was certainly a far cry from the Brass’s first trip in 1977!
After being introduced by China’s most famous show host, Yang Lan, and greeting the audience with a good ‘ole Canadian “Hunan, ni hao,” the gentlemen of the Brass performed Song of the Guerillas, arranged by Chris specifically for this occasion. Familiar with this popular song of the Hunan Province, the crowd cheered, clapped and sang along. The cheers certainly reached a climax as Chris blasted a different style high C…you’ll see what we mean. Enjoy, and Happy Year of the Rabbit!