Black History Month and Chinese New Year may seem polar opposites, but a fusion of the February celebrations is in the works at Carnegie Hall.
Renowned Chinese pianist Jiaxin Tian and former Mayor David Dinkins will share the stage — and their heritages — on Wednesday night.
“It helps to remind us that our city is not a melting pot but a mosaic,” said Dinkins, echoing his famous 1990s refrain that redefined New York City’s diversity as separate entities that must be respected.
Dinkins, 87, will recite Abraham Lincoln’s most memorable quotations and proclamations about slavery and America’s struggle for equality in honor of Black History Month. The narration will be accompanied by American composer Aaron Copland’s 1942 masterpiece, “A Portrait of Lincoln.”
Dinkins follows a list of famous Americans who have performed narrations to Copland’s piece, including astronaut Neil Armstrong, newsman Walter Cronkite, actress Katharine Hepburn, professional athlete Julius Erving, President Barack Obama and actor James Earl Jones.
“The narration has to be consistent with the music,” Dinkins said last week. He had just finished his rehearsal with the Manhattan Symphony and was surprised by a visit from legendary Russian ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.
“I had to come down and see you,” said Baryshnikov, who gave Dinkins a reassuring shoulder pat. “What is important are your words. You should be heard. It’s more important than the music.”
Dinkins, the city’s first black mayor, said he looks forward to reciting lines from the Gettysburg Address.
“The Gettysburg is the most profound. It’s short and … it was delivered in 10 minutes,” said Dinkins, who reflected on his own journey of emancipation.
“Back in the 1950s, I was told that Negroes shouldn’t be so pushy. Now look at us. We have our first black president,” he said, smiling.
The force that brought together this new arrangement is Manhattan Symphonie conductor Gregory Singer, who has traveled across China soaking up its folk music and classical Chinese musical talent.
“This is a terrific moment for us to celebrate Black History Month with His Honor and the Chinese New Year with … Tian,” Singer said.
Tian, 29, will play “Yellow River,” — among the most famous Chinese-written and arranged concertos.
“We will feel the history of both our cultures through the music,” the pianist said.
Tian said she is seeking to foster an exchange of American and Chinese artistry. “Our cultures are different, but the more we share, the more familiar it will become for us and the more similar we will see each other,” she said.
Her performance, she said, will illustrate China’s history and the cultural revolution of the 1960s and ’70s.
“This music is our story and spirit,” she said.