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ClassicsOnline Home » SHENG, Bright: Blazing Mirage (The) / The Song and Dance of Tears / Colors of Crimson (Hong Kong Philharmonic, Bright Sheng)
In 2000 Bright Sheng collected music from the remote mountains and deserts along the ancient Silk Road in China. The Song and Dance of Tears combines Chinese and Western sonorities in an evocation of the deep emotional impressions made on him by the beautiful music of that region. Colors of Crimson expands the timbre of the solo marimba through a fascinating spectrum of orchestral effects, while the skilful fusion of Chinese and Central Asian classical and folk music in The Blazing Mirage was inspired by the miraculously preserved artistic and cultural treasures of the Dunhuang Caves.
Bright Sheng (b. 1955)
The Song and Dance of Tears • Colours of Crimson • The Blazing Mirage
The Song and Dance of Tears (2003, rev. 2013)
In the summer of 2000, I received a grant from the University of Michigan to collect classical and folk music along the ancient Silk Road within the contemporary Chinese border. I spent two months travelling through the most remote corners of the world in the mountains and deserts.
The result was both fascinating and eye-opening. Not only was I profoundly touched by the beautiful music from the region, I also realized how significantly the musics of different ethnic groups have been inspiring and infiltrating each other for thousands of years. And just as there is no pure blood in any race, there is no true nationalistic music either. Bartók, speaking of Slavic folk music, believed that the most interesting music was the music from the regions bordering more than one ethnicity. And that can certainly be said of all the musical styles I encountered during my trip. However, a border line has never truly existed on the Silk Road. This is true fusion in its finest sense.
In The Song and Dance of Tears I did not attempt to recreate the scenes and music I heard during the trip. Rather, the work serves as an evocation of the impressions and emotions that stayed with me deeply. The tune I constructed for the last section of the work, Tears, was based on materials of several folk songs I heard during the trip. One of them was titled Tears, in which an old man laments his lost youth.
In 2013, preparing for the recording with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, I revised the work quite substantially.
Notes on the sheng and pipa
The sheng, a Chinese mouth organ, is arguably the ancestor of all reed instruments, including the Western organ and accordion. We now have evidence of the Chinese people having played this instrument for at least twenty-five hundred years. The sound of this wind instrument is produced by either exhaling or inhaling through the mouth-piece while the fingers block the small openings of each bamboo pipe to generate air flow.
The history of the pipa, a plucked instrument of the lute family (whose invention has been attributed to the Babylonian civilization that flourished during the third millennium BC), is a typical example of how different cultures flirted and integrated with each other. When the pipa was first brought into China through the Silk Road over two thousand years ago, it resembled and sounded very much like the present-day lute, with a curved neck held horizontally and played with a plectrum. Over the years, the Chinese have truly assimilated the instrument as one of their own—it is now performed vertically with (plastic) finger nails and the instrument has changed extensively in its range of expression. Like almost all Chinese instruments, the pitches can easily be bent by pushing and pulling the rather loose strings to produce a glissando effect, a feature which comes from the tonal aspect of the Chinese language.
Colors of Crimson (2004)
Colors of Crimson, commissioned by the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, was composed during the winter and spring of 2004. It is written for and dedicated to Evelyn Glennie, marimba soloist; Bramwell Tovey, conductor and Music Director, and the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra. World première performance: September 16th, 2004, Luxembourg.
To me, one of the most challenging aspects in writing for the marimba is the instrument’s limited range of timbral variety. In this work, I’ve attempted to adjust this limitation by using different orchestral devices; some of them are subtle while at other times some are bold. What I hope to provide is a diversity of tonal hues within the overall monotonic timbre of the marimba—Colors of Crimson.
The basic thematic material of the work comes from a reconstruction of a love song I wrote during my teenage years. At the time, I was living in Qinghai—a remote province of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau in northwest China—where the folk music tradition has always been abundant.
The Blazing Mirage (2012)
The Blazing Mirage for Cello and Strings was commissioned by the Musicus Society and premièred on October 26th, 2012, by Trey Lee and the Munich Chamber Orchestra, Alexander Liebreich conducting, at the Concert Hall of City Hall, presented by the New Vision Arts Festival of Hong Kong.
The Blazing Mirage was inspired by the phenomenon of the Dunhuang Caves, which have arguably preserved the greatest Buddhist art frescos and manuscripts, dating back to the fourth century.
I consider Dunhuang a miraculous phenomenon—the colossal treasures not only survived over millennia of time, but also endured many political and religious reigns. As a result, Dunhuang represents a cultural mélange: although most of the frescos and manuscripts were about Buddhism (of Indian origin), there were images of and documents on other religions such as Taoism, Nestorianism, and even Judaism; and, in addition to the Chinese language, the Dunhuang Manuscripts found in the caverns were also written in Tibetan, Uighur, Sanskrit, Pali, Sogdian, and Khotanese. Along with the Manuscripts, music scores in a lost notational system were found, and several attempts at ‘decoding’ have been made in recent decades. Interestingly, there is a stylistic similarity among these diverse interpretations—the musics all sound with a piquant Central Asian flavour.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Dunhuang Caves is that it opened a window letting us observe the lives of ancient times that reflected this fusion. In fact, it was a testimony of how Chinese culture and Central Asian cultures have influenced, infiltrated and, to some extent, shaped each other. And it is from that angle that I approached this composition.
The work starts with a cello recitative based on a Mukam (a Central Asian classical music form) motif I heard in the region during my first Silk Road field trip. The string orchestra introduces a well-known folk song from northern Shaanxi, a province in which Chang An, the ancient Chinese capital, is located. At first, these two ideas appeared to be distinctive, but as the music continues through songs and dances, they gradually transform into a single mélange.
The title of the composition comes from a legend: In 366 AD, a Buddhist monk had a vision of a thousand Buddhas glittering in golden lights. And that prophecy inspired him to build the first cave on the rocks of Dunhuang.
Yaniv Segal is the assistant conductor for the project.
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SHENG, Bright: Blazing Mirage (The) / The Song and...