About this Recording
9.70235 - SHENG, Bright: Night at the Chinese Opera (A) / String Quartet No. 5 / My Song / My Other Song (P. Serkin, Bright Sheng, Shanghai Quartet)

Bright Sheng (b. 1955)
Dance Capriccio • String Quartet No. 5 • My Song • My Other Song


Dance Capriccio (2011)
for piano and string quartet

Dance Capriccio was commissioned by the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation in honour of Lois Beznos, the president of the Chamber Music Society of Detroit. The work was written for Peter Serkin and the Shanghai String Quartet, who premièred the work on February 11, 2012, at the Seligman Performing Arts Center in Detroit. It is approximately twelve minutes in length.

Dance Capriccio was inspired by the dance folk music of the Sherpa, a small ethnic group (population ca. 150,000) mostly living in western Nepal, in the high mountains of the Himalayas. In the Tibetan language, Sherpa means ‘People of the East’, as it is believed that the Sherpa moved from Eastern Tibet to their current site centuries ago. Sherpa are regarded as excellent mountaineers and guides for expeditions of the Himalayas, especially Mount Everest.

The Sherpa language is essentially an atypical dialect of Tibetan. The same phenomenon is reflected in Sherpa folk music which is similar to Tibetan but with its distinctive characters and twists of melodic turns. Like the Tibetans, the Sherpa love to dance and, along with love songs and drinking songs, dance music is an important genre within Sherpa folk music. In Dance Capriccio, I have tried to capture the various characters of Sherpa Dance, from slow to fast, tender to raucous, and even wild.

This work is dedicated to Maxine and Stuart Frankel, my dear friends, and passionate patrons and promoters for arts and art education.

String Quartet No. 5 ‘Miraculous’ (2007)

String Quartet No. 5 ‘The Miraculous’, written between March and July 2007, was co-commissioned for the Emerson String Quartet by the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stanford University, and the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan. It was premièred by the Emerson String Quartet on October 18th, 2007. The work is dedicated to the Emerson String Quartet.

The subtitle of the quartet is inspired by two sources. Firstly, it is quite unusual to hear a string quartet in which each member is not only a splendid virtuoso, but also a passionate and superb musician. That was the thought which went through my mind when I first heard the Emerson Quartet in the summer of 1983 at Aspen Music Festival where I was a student, new to the USA. Throughout its three decades, the Emerson’s performances have become greatly more profound; yet they have not lost any of their passion and virtuosity.

String Quartet No. 5 is based on two very different musical motifs, like two strangers from different cultural backgrounds who meet and become lovers. Throughout their courtship, neither of them changes but they get to know and understand each other on a much deeper level. Most importantly, they learn to live happily with each other with each other.

A Night at the Chinese Opera (2005)
for violin and piano

A Night at the Chinese Opera was commissioned by the 2006 Indianapolis International Violin Competition. The basic materials in this work are derived from an instrumental interlude of the well-known Peking Opera, Farewell My Concubine, in which Princess Yü bids farewell to General Xiang, her lover and master, with a sword dance before she kills herself at the climactic point of the dance. Here I imagine the violin part delivers the female singing voice while the piano part often gives the rhythm of the Chinese opera. Nonetheless, the feeling of dance should be prevalent.

My Song (1989)
for solo piano
1. 1/8 note = 54
2. 1/4 note = 66-72
3. 1/4 note = 112
4. Nostalgia 1/8 note = 63

My Song sprang from two-fold inspiration: firstly, Peter Serkin’s musicality and virtuosity, and secondly, my attachment to Chinese folk music. The phonetic pronunciation of My Song (m’ai-sang) in Chinese can coincidentally be translated as ‘pulsating voices’. And my personal ‘m’ai-sang’ is the folk music and dance of my native land.

The prelude-like first movement, in folkloric style, is constructed through the development of heterophony, a typical device in Asian music. A humorous and joyful folk song from Se-Tsuan inspired the second movement. The third movement is a savage dance in which the melody grows through a series of ‘Chinese sequences’. This is a term of my own invention that describes a type of melodic development in Chinese instrumental music in which each repetition of the initial motive increases the number of notes, duration, and tessitura. The last movement evokes a sense of lonely nostalgia.

My Song was commissioned and premièred by Peter Serkin on November 11, 1989 in New York City.

My Other Song (2007)
for solo piano

1. quarter note = 63
2. quarter note = 80 sempre, non rubato
3. Prestissimo (quarter note = 144-160)
4. Slow funeral march (eighth note = 60 sempre)

My Other Song was commissioned by Music Accord for Yefim Bronfman, to whom the work is dedicated. The première took place on May 20th, 2007 at the Rose Theater in the Lincoln Center, New York City.

In 1990, after eight years in the U.S., I wrote my first work for solo piano, entitled My Song, commissioned for Peter Serkin. At the time my primary compositional concentration was to develop a melodic and harmonic style within the boundaries of Chinese folk music, which are mostly in pentatonic modes, and contemporary Western Classical music. As a result, all the four movements in My Song were either based on existing Chinese folk tunes or written in the style of it. Seventeen years later, I was asked by another virtuoso pianist friend—Yefim Bronfman—to write a work for solo piano. After the passing of so many years, I was intrigued to see if there would be any change in my compositional writing style. I therefore entitled the new suite My Other Song.

There are four movements in the composition, the first three of which are brief and provide contrast in character. The theme of the last movement, the longest, is based on a Buddhist chant heard at the wake for my mother in February 2005.

Bright Sheng

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