Live ping pong for New York Philharmonic's Lunar New Year

Shanghai Symphony Conductor Long Yu will lead the New York Philharmonic in a performance featuring ping pong players to celebrate the Chinese New Year

The New York Philharmonic is marking the Chinese New Year with a performance that features a novel musical instrument -- live ping pong.

The leading US orchestra is throwing a gala Tuesday for the Lunar New Year that will feature the US premiere of Andy Akiho's "Ricochet," a concerto with violin, percussion -- and ping pong.

Two US ping pong champions, Ariel Hsing and Michael Landers, will play the game on stage, with the ball's percussive back-and-forth on the table and their paddles turning into an instrument in its own right.

The Philharmonic, announcing the program, described "Ricochet" as a "playful, rhythm-heavy piece" that "explores the musical potential of the ping pong balls."

The piece premiered in 2015 at the Music in the Summer Air Festival in Shanghai.

Akiho said that the concerto was inspired by ping pong diplomacy -- the famous 1971 chapter in the Pacific powers' relationship, when a US table tennis team visited China, starting to set the stage for a normalization of ties that had been frozen since the communist victory in the civil war.

Akiho, born in South Carolina and based in New York, explores innovative rhythms and sounds by bringing non-traditional instruments into classical music, notably the steel pan.

The New York Philharmonic has been holding black-tie galas to celebrate the Chinese New Year since 2012, part of its effort to raise the orchestra's international profile and build ties with a fast-growing audience for classical music.

The annual concerts are led by Long Yu, the music director of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra who is considered China's leading conductor.