Panda Suite without Borders

The Panda Suite premiered 26 April 2019 in the Concert Hall at the Royal Danish Academy of Music.
The Panda Suite for Dizi and Symphony Orchestra had its world premiere 26 April 2019 in the Concert Hall at the Royal Danish Academy of Music.

A year ago, Music Confucius Institute at the Royal Danish Academy of Music (RDAM) proposed a project to mark the arrival of the two giant pandas, Mao Sun and Xing Er, to Denmark with a new piece of music based on Chinese-Western music dialogue.

Both Copenhagen Phil as well as the Central Conservatory of Music (CCOM) in Beijing supported the project and Chinese composer and Associate Professor at CCOM, Zhang Shuai, was commissioned to write the piece. The result was the Panda Suite for dizi (Chinese bamboo flute) and Symphony Orchestra in three movements.
Her Majesty Queen Margrethe opened the Panda Enclosure in Copenhagen Zoo on 10 April at the official gala opening. During the gala dinner at the Panda enclosure, an ensemble of 10 musicians from Copenhagen Phil and RDAM performed the second movement of the Panda Suite with dizi soloist from CCOM, Xiong Xiaohan, conducted by RDAM conducting student Nathanäel Iselin. The music was performed in a most enjoyable atmosphere with the panda bears close by.

On 26 April, the Panda Suite had its world premiere. About his work, Zhang Shuai states: “My music comes entirely from my heart, and music as a language is my way of communicating with the world. The world premiere of the panda suite made me feel happy and fulfilled.”

Copenhagen Phil performed the piece together with 15 students from RDAM and the established Chinese dizi soloist Prof. Dai Ya under the baton of conductor Prof. Chen Lin.

“The three movements in the suite were played with great enthusiasm by Copenhagen Phil, conducted by Prof. Chen Lin and with dizi virtuoso Prof. Dai Ya as the soloist. After the concert, professional musicians in the audience especially mentioned Mr. Zhang Shuai’s very skillful use of the orchestra's instruments and interesting combination of Chinese and Western sounds,” said Associate Professor Søren Schauser, RDAM, who also gave a comprehensive introduction to the Panda Suite at the premiere.

Because the music was commissioned in relation to the arrival of the giant pandas, the audience was invited to learn more about the animals. Therefore, at the premiere, Prof. Hou Rong, from the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, introduced the audience to the living conditions for the giant pandas as well as the work done by the center. The giant panda used to be an endangered species, but thanks to the work of the center, preventing sickness and promoting breeding, the giant panda is no longer considered an endangered species.

Now, Professor Hou Rong works closely together with Copenhagen Zoo to secure the wellbeing of the two pandas in Denmark.

Just as the pandas connect China and Denmark, the Panda Suite connects the Western and the Chinese music, forming synergies e.g. with a Danish symphony orchestra and a soloist playing the Chinese bamboo flute, dizi.

 “After the concert, the audience showed a special interest and enthusiasm for the giant panda,” Prof. Hou Rong says, “the use of giant pandas and music as a link has enhanced the cultural exchanges and mutual understanding between the Chinese and Danish people.”

Eva Hess Thaysen, Associate Professor of Voice and Head of Vocal Studies and Artistic Research at RDAM agrees; “With the Panda Suite for Symphony Orchestra and Dizi, the composer Zhang Shuai has created a wonderful bridge between Chinese and Western music.”

The purpose of the Panda Suite was to celebrate the cultural cooperation between Denmark and China. Culture and music can help us preserve and embrace our differences and by working together, help us create something original and innovative.

“Music communicates above cultural, linguistic, political and economic differences. Music communicates emotionally to human beings across the world. Music knows no borders. Music connects,” says CEO of Copenhagen Phil Uffe Savery, who has been appointed President of RDAM from 1 August 2019. “As a representative for music, I want to use music as a means of communication between different countries and cultures. Music is also something that needs a little “protection” – just like the panda. Therefore, it was natural for Copenhagen Phil to contribute to the creation of a Panda Suite.”