Highland Park’s Yummy Bowl celebrates Chinese New Year
Violinist Gallia Kastner and pianist Andrew Guo perform Friday night at Yummy Bowl restaurant's annual Chinese New Year celebration in Highland Park. | Marah Altenberg~Sun-Times Media
HIGHLAND PARK — It is the year of the snake in Chinese culture.
The year of the snake is meant for steady progress and attention to detail. Having a snake in the house is also a good omen because it means that your family will not starve.
A packed house at the Yummy Bowl restaurant in Highland Park certainly did not starve Friday night as they feasted on Chinese cuisine and enjoyed an eclectic and beautiful concert that followed the filling dinner.
The concert was sprinkled with Chinese music as well as opera and classical music.
Yummy Bowl owner Theresa Chang, her husband and Rick Nelson, who is the restaurant’s landlord, started hosting the Chinese New Year dinner event about six years ago. Not only do all of the attendees get to enjoy a large buffet, but then they are treated to a Ravinia-quality concert.
Chang, who was the lead soprano soloist for the Shanghai Lyric Opera for eight years before coming to America, entertained the crowd with some extraordinary Puccinni ballads.
Melanie Neilan, a Highland Park High School senior, who has performed in prior theatrical productions, sang some Chinese songs with her beautiful high voice. Her Chinese teacher at the high school, who had entered her in several speech contests, taught her how to sing in Chinese and encouraged her to perform.
She also tried out for China’s version of America’s Got Talent and performed in China during last summer.
“It is not often I go to a concert and see a Chinese person sing La Boheme and see an American singing in Chinese,” said Cary Chan of Lake Forest.
Chang held her first Chinese New Year’s dinner and concert in 1998. During a break for a few years, people kept asking if they would bring the event back. In 2006, Chang decided to start hosting the event annually on the week of Chinese New Year.
“People like to get to know our culture,” she said. “I am glad we can give good food and good music.”
Other entertainers included Yummy Bowl’s manager Guang Long Li, who performed some Chinese folk songs on a Chinese instrument. Tang Xue Shu sang some Chinese songs in his stunning baritone voice.
Then the crowd was treated to two teens who each have fellowships to study at the Music Institute of Chicago. They were nothing short of amazing, according to raves from an excited crowd, who have watched the teens grow up and improve. Both have come back and performed all six years.
Andrew Guo, 14, a pianist and composer, played pieces from Mozart and Chopin. Gallia Kastner, 15, a violinist, played pieces from Brahms and Tchaikovsky.
“She would not miss it,” said her father David Kastner.
Kastner of Arlington Heights, who won a national competition recently in Washington D.C., is dreaming of becoming a professional musician.
“These two kids are world class musicians,” Nelson said.