New York Chamber Symphony Orchestra, Gerard Schwarz; Peter Serkin, piano; L. Saffer, soprano; Paul Neubauer, viola; Lucia Lin, violin
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. This is music, to paraphrase William Blake, of innocence and of experience. The innocence and experience are not simply those of a boy growing up amid the terrors of China's Cultural Revolution—they are also components of a well-trained composer's creative equipment: the beloved folk music of a land left behind and the complex, vast, and challenging vocabulary and grammar available in a newer but in some ways exhausted, Western world.
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 (1990), for solo violin, was commissioned by the Foundation for Chinese Arts in 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."
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."
Bright Sheng: H'un (Lacerations) and Other Works