Rediscover Chinese music with China National Traditional Orchestra

Inspired by a story over 2,000 years old, “High Mountain Flowing Water” is a popular ancient Chinese melody that highlights friendship. It is played on the guqin (aka qin), a seven-string plucked instrument in the zither family. (James Wasserman)


“A Moonlit Night on the Spring River” is named after a poem from the Tang Dynasty. This work is traditionally played on the pipa (aka Chinese lute) which has a pear-shaped wooden body and four plucked strings. In 2008, the work was heard in the Beijing Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. (James Wasserman)

”The Moon Reflected on Erquan” is a beloved and expressive folk melody written for the erhu by 20th-century composer Abing (né Hua Yanjun). The erhu (aka the Chinese violin) is a major bowed-string Chinese instrument. (James Wasserman)

”Ambush from Ten Sides” – the saga of the Han Army in battle – is a classical masterpiece in Chinese music written for the pipa and percussion (Chinese drums, small cymbals, chimes and small gongs). The pipa is a plucked string instrument along the lines of an Asian guitar. (James Wasserman)


A portion of the “Spring Festival Overture” is played here on the dizi (aka the Bamboo flute). This festive orchestral work was composed by CNTO founder Li Huanzhi to commemorate the Chinese New Year. In 2007, the work was selected for broadcast in space on China’s first lunar probe. (James Wasserman)

The suona is played in Li Huanzhi’s “Spring Festival Overture,” a work heard frequently in mainland China celebrations. The suona is the Chinese double reed version of the oboe. 


The China National Traditional Orchestra (formerly known as the China National Orchestra) was founded in 1960 by famous Chinese composer and conductor Li Huanzhi, a prominent member of the Chinese Music Association.

Throughout his career, Huanzhi transformed Chinese ancient texts, regional folk tunes and rhythms into original orchestral arrangements. His formation of CNTO allowed him yet another outlet for his musical narratives of China’s culture and history.

CNTO’s mission is the promotion and advancement of China’s musical heritage. It played a significant role in the late 20th-century development of Chinese traditional music into a symphonic art form, complete with its own blend of ancient and resurrected musical instruments. By the end of the 1960s, China’s musical scene had been transformed by the proliferation of similar groups, signaling a major milestone in China’s heritage.

“Rediscover Chinese Music” is brought to the United States as part of Image China, a cultural exchange program presented by China Arts and Entertainment Group. Image China introduces China’s traditional culture and contemporary award-winning art works to the world.

Come to “Rediscover Chinese Music,” a breathtaking multimedia experience featuring the China National Traditional Orchestra, at the Kennedy Center December 11-13. For Tickets call 202-467-4600 or go to

The China National Traditional Orchestra performs both traditional and modern Chinese classical and folk music. Much of CNTO’s repertoire consists of works derived from ancient or contemporary sounds. In concert, the music retells the richness of China and its people through poetry and parables: China’s revolutions and celebrations, its nationalism and ancestry, and the people’s passion for ceremony, loyalty and philosophy.

Throughout its history, CNTO has attracted top musical talent. Its roster consists of accomplished musicians recognized at home and abroad; and award-winning composers, conductors and instrumentalists who revel in China’s unique musical heritage.

In the U.S. premier of “Rediscover Chinese Music,” Wang Chaoge – one of China’s top directors and a co-director of the 2008 Beijing Olympics Closing Ceremony – pays tribute to the music by combining modern multimedia effects with spectacular lighting and stage direction.

The concert team also includes composer-in-residence Jiang Ying whose many accolades include First Prize in the 18th Ministry of Culture National Composition Competition. Resident conductor Liu Sha graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music, China’s leading music school. Concertmaster Tang Feng’s erhu composition “Song of Mountains” was awarded Best Repertoire Prize in the Chinese Traditional Music Competition. Resident conductor He Jianguo conducted CNTO in the 18th National Composition Competition Award Winners Concert.

Since its founding, CNTO has realized a series of “firsts.” In 1996, the Carnegie Hall Corporation commissioned the creation of “Spring Dreams,” a concerto for cellist Yo-Yo Ma and CNTO. In 1997, CNTO premiered the work with the famed cellist in the first concert of its kind in Carnegie Hall. In 2011, the orchestra became the first traditional Chinese music group to perform at Austria’s Salzburg Summer Festival. In 2014, the orchestra arranged pop artist Katy Perry’s song ‘Roar’ on traditional Chinese instruments, who then visited China to hear it performed.

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