EastRiver Ensemble

EastRiver is an elastic performance group rooted in China and definitively New York. EastRiver will interplay Chinese music, new music, world music, lion dance and stagecraft and acrobats, plus all manner of gossip, nodding and laughter; yet as you come away from the show, you would have learned a lot, and you will recall the group’s virtuosic flair and flamboyant “kungfu”.

“EastRiver” was so named for its lucky charm powers to ensure smooth traffic — in honor of the river that conjoins the boroughs of New York City; “EastRiver” also honors the larger spirit of creative flow and harmony.

Sizhu Music

EastRiver deals in Chinese instruments: from bow-strings (the huqin group) and plucked lutes (tanbo yue) to bamboo winds (dizi, xiao and such), reedy oboes (sona and guanzi), and festive drums, cymbals & gongs, and sometimes a saxophone, cello or an Arabic drum. The music will be Chinese, if you please, with a sneak into Korea or Japan and the odd American jingle or a die-hard Hollywood tune to take you now and then into your own nostalgia.

An elderly man plays a traditional chinese flute at a cultural event, with musicians playing a drum and keyboard in the background.
Musicians performing on stage with traditional chinese instruments including a guzheng, erhu, and pipa.

Geographical Identity

EastRiver music is essentially identified with the provinces of Dongbei & Hebei – largely – North and East China around the Yellow River, with some venturing into other regional traditions such as ‘sizhu’ silk-and-bamboo (of the Yangtze River) or southern China (Canton, Chaozhou, Fujian)


The basic ensemble is of three to seven pieces; the extended ensemble may be seven or eight and up to twelve, delivering a full repertoire of tunes, songs (sometimes theater and dance) interspersed with a narrative to lend drama and history to the music. Performances are timed to meet the requirement of the venue, from 30 to 90 minute in length, with or without intervals.

Our Standard Repertoire in Historical Framework

Folk songs (some sung) of the 1950s, 60s or 70s; Mao’s cultural revolution era (1966-1975); Contemporary virtuosic showpieces of that era reflective of the heyday of music conservatory competitions; Theatrical format and fusion of Hebei (Bangzi) and Beijing opera; Impromptu “recall” of traditional music of the oral tradition from the Tang dynasty (C.E. 900) up to the earliest scored music of the 20th century “old Society” China (pre-1949).

Arrangements of the dominant Han Chinese as inspired by the ethnic minorities of Xinjiang, Shanxi, or Inner Mongolia. EastRiver’s own eclectic renditions of anything that comes to mind — playful, tentative, transitional works — reflecting the emigrant experience of artists living in New York and their global yearnings. To explore further, please contact [email protected] to submit details and requirements.

Opera and Stagecraft

EastRiver Theater is drama in all shades and forms – from the basics of Beijing opera (“jingju”) and the classical Cantonese “yueju” to the folk stagecraft of acrobatics, dance and fighting forms and ‘cabaret-styled’ magical acts. Catering to all ages and nationalities, the EastRiver act usually offers a dramatic narrative (in English and Chinese) interwoven into the stylized action and music, allowing the audience to match small movements with the unfolding meaning of the story. In keeping with the tradition of boundless space and time – EastRiver may put New York City and a Xinjiang mountain in one story, recast an old aria with a familiar Broadway tune, set a Taichi Master to stir up a northern lion dance or let loose a splash of Chinese acrobatics in moment of comic relief.

To explore further, please contact [email protected] to submit details and requirements.

Artists from China

As part of the Mencius commitment to bridging between east and west “Artists from China” is our long-standing program of discovering and showcasing emergent artists from the ‘Old Country’.

Two actors in traditional chinese costumes performing on stage with a backdrop depicting a classical garden scene.

As Program Agent

We reach out to folk music and theatrical groups from China in order to promote them with performing arts centers, theme parks and festival grounds in the United States. Simply put, we serve as your program agent and consultant: we make accessible sampling of artistic works to presenters and see to all matters of the artists’ contracts, terms and compensations, and their travel arrangements to the US.

As Program Host

We periodically organize tours and festivals wherein outstanding artists from China are invited under the auspices of Mencius Society for the Arts to perform in the United States alongside local New York-based artists. Other organizations and presenters in the United States are welcome to co-sponsor such events with us.

To explore further, please contact [email protected] to submit details and requirements.