The music of the Chinese-American composer
Bright Sheng (b 1955) sometimes floats like delicate fragrances on a breeze and sometimes screams and writhes in actual or remembered agony. In 1978, Sheng became one of the first to be admitted to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, where he earned his composition degree. Moving to New York City in 1982, he continued his composition studies at Queens College of the City University of New York with George Perle and Hugo Weisgall, at Columbia University with Chou Wen-chung, Jack Beeson, and Mario Davidovsky, and with his mentor Leonard Bernstein.
H'un: In Memoriam 1966-1976 is emphatically an angry and grieving cry of historical experience. This essay was composed in 1987, the year Sheng became an American citizen. The word H'un, pronounced like the tribe of Attila, is translated by the composer as "lacerations."
The Stream Flows, for solo violin, was commissioned by the Foundation for Chinese Arts in Boston, for Nai-Yuan Hu, who presented the premiere on October 20, 1990, in Jordan Hall, Boston. The first of the two sections is based on a Chinese folk song of the same title. A preface to the score conveys Sheng's hope that the violin evokes the "timbre and the tone quality of a female folk singer." The second section is a "fast country dance based on a three-note motive." The piece is dedicated to Hugo Weisgall, himself a notable user of (Jewish) folk material.
A vocal version of "The Stream Flows" appears with its text as the third of Three Chinese Love Songs for voice, viola, and piano. There are differences in key, decoration, and of course musical activity between the two versions, but the nostalgic mood remains. The first two songs, with the second being the liveliest of the set, are elaborately and subtly ornamented for the voice.
My Song, a four-movement piano suite, was written in 1988 for Peter Serkin; it is characterized by an evenhanded balance between Eastern and Western influences. "It was the first piece in which I was trying to search for tonality," Sheng says, in the sense of "the working out of harmony."
New York Chamber Symphony Orchestra, Gerard Schwarz; Peter Serkin, piano; L. Saffer, soprano; Paul Neubauer, viola; Lucia Lin, violin