She’ll light up the Lantern Festival

Irvine resident Emily Chien performs with the South Coast Chinese Orchestra as it celebrates the Year of the Tiger.

Lunar New Year festivities have just begun, but be sure to save the date for the Lantern Festival, which marks the final day of the two-week celebration.

The lantern lighting tradition, which can be traced back 2,000 years, is a way for people to “let go of the burdens of their old selves and express their best wishes for both themselves and their families for the future.”

This year, the South Coast Chinese Cultural Center in Irvine is partnering with the Pacific Symphony to host a family-friendly Lantern Festival on Feb. 26. Floating lanterns will transform the lobby of the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. There will be food, art, dance and music.

Emily Chien is among the performers. The Irvine mother will be playing with the South Coast Chinese Orchestra.

Chien, 53, came to America from Taiwan when she was 13. She raised her two sons in the Oak Creek neighborhood.

It wasn’t until her dad died in 2015 that she decided it was time to do some of the things she always wanted to do but kept putting off – like playing the cello.

So she began taking cello classes at the South Coast Chinese Cultural Center in Irvine.

Chien is now a member of the center’s South Coast Chinese Orchestra, whose mission is “to present a vivid and contemporary aspect” of traditional Chinese music. She plays the cello as well as the guzheng, a Chinese plucking instrument similar to the zither.

“What I like most about the orchestra is that we have some people who have been playing forever, and then people like me who have been playing for five years,” Chien says.

In addition to varying skill levels, members’ ages are all over the map, from elementary school kids to seniors in their 70s.

“We are like a big family,” Chien says. “We’re not perfect, but we just enjoy playing music together.”

The orchestra has been practicing for the Lantern Festival every Wednesday night at the center’s Irvine campus. Members will perform a half-dozen songs, ranging from traditional Chinese to a piece from “Game of Thrones.”

The conductor of the South Coast Chinese Orchestra is He Bin, who has recorded music for both Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland, as well as video games and movies.

Tickets for the Lantern Festival are free but must be reserved. Visit: for information.

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