Bright Sheng

Bright Sheng, born in Shanghai, China on 6 December 1955, started piano studies with his mother at the age of four. After graduating from high school during the Cultural Revolution he was one of the first students accepted by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, where he earned his undergraduate degree in music composition. In 1982, he moved to New York, where he attended Queens College, CUNY, and Columbia University. Among his main teachers were Leonard Bernstein, Chou Wen-chung, Mario Davidovsky, George Perle, and Hugo Weisgall.

Sheng has received a number of prizes in China including Chamber Music Composition and Art Song Competition. In the United States he has received awards and prizes from the National Endowment for the Arts, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Illinois Council on the Arts, The Naumburg Foundation, The Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, and the Guggenheim Foundation.

Sheng was the artistic director of the San Francisco Symphony's "Wet Ink 93" Festival and composer-in-residence with the 1993 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. In April 1992 he began a two-year tenure as composer-in-residence with the Seattle Symphony; during 1994/95 he served as Artist-in-Residence for the University of Washington.

Bright Sheng's music has been performed to great critical response by major ensembles and soloists around the world. The highly acclaimed H'un (Lacerations): In Memoriam 1966-76, his dramatic orchestral portrait of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, has been performed by the New York Philharmonic ("H'un is...naked emotionalism...a battle of the spirit" -- The New York Times), Chicago Symphony ("H'un...signaled the arrival of a significant young composer" -- Chicago Tribune), Cleveland Orchestra, the Baltimore, San Francisco, Honolulu, Milwaukee and Kansas City symphonies, and the Tokyo Philharmonic, among others. Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic performed H'un in six cities on their 1993 European tour and it was featured at the 1994 Warsaw Autumn Festival by Poland's National Philharmonic.

Sheng has also received commissions and performances of his works from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, Tanglewood Music Center, the Shanghai Symphony, Orchestra sinfonica dell'Accademia Nazionale de Santa Cecilia, the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, and from musicians including Leonard Bernstein, Peter Serkin, Yo-Yo Ma, Cho-Liang Lin, Gerard Schwarz, David Zinman, and Hugh Wolff, among others. Sheng's recent premieres include Prelude for Orchestra for the Houston Symphony in November of 1994, China Dreams for the Seattle Symphony in September of 1995, and Seven Tunes Heard in China, for Yo-yo Ma in October 1995. In February 1996, the New York Philharmonic gave the US premiere of his Fanfare No. 1: Arrows to the Page. Spring Dreams, a work commissioned by Carnegie Hall for Yo-yo Ma and the National Traditional Orchestra of China, premiered in February 1997 and toured through the United States. Postcards, a 15-minute orchestral work commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, premiered in January 1998.

Sheng's discography includes a recording on the Delos label of The Song of Majnun with the Houston Grand Opera; and on the New World label of H'un and chamber music featuring Peter Serkin, Lisa Saffer, and the New York Chamber Symphony under Gerard Schwarz.

Sheng's music will be featured at the festival concert on February 3 "Tabula Asia".

For more information on Bright Sheng visit:

Also another great interview here: Michigan Today

NOTES on The Stream Flows for solo violin
Bright Sheng's The Stream Flows, for violin solo, was commissioned by the
Foundation for Chinese Arts in Boston for Nai-Yuan Hu, who performed the
premiere on October 20, 1990 in Jordan Hall, Boston. Just as earlier
composers like Bartok and Janacek built their musical languages from
elements of eastern European folk music, Sheng finds his inspiration in
Chinese folk music. The first section of The Stream Flows is based on a
famous folk song from the southern part of China, a song that Sheng has
used in other compositions as well. Sheng notes in his preface to the
score, "I hope that the solo violin evokes the timbre and tone quality of a
female folk singer." The text gives a sense of the mood of the music:

The rising moon shines brightly
It reminds me of love in the mountains

Like the moon, you walk in the sky,
As the crystal stream flows down the mountain.

A clear breeze blows up the hill,
My love, do you hear I am calling you?

The second section is a crazy, rustic country dance based on the repetition
and variation of a three-note motive derived from the pentatonic scale. In
the opening the violinist accompanies the bowed melody by plucking the open
strings of the violin with the left hand, adding a percussive quality to
the melody.

NOTES on concertino
Many Central European composers such as Bartok and Janacek have believed
that the fundamental elements of their music come from the native folk
music and prosody of their native languages. And therefore when one
understands the folk music and languages from these regions, one can truly
understand and appreciate their works. Although this may be true, the music
of these composers is nevertheless widely liked and admired by millions who
do not know their lahguages. In that respect, this is the very goal I wish
to achieve in my writing, which stems from Asian culture.

The materials for this work are drawn from fragments of folk tunes i heard
over 20 years ago when I was living in the northwest part of China. What
struck me then was that, unlike most Chinese folk music, the folk music
from that region is not based on a pentatonic scale. Instead, it has a
seven-note scale similar to the mixolydian church mode. I wondered what it
would be like if one were to use this melodic pattern in a work for western
instruments and whether it would lose its Asian quality.

As with many of my other compositions, this work was inspired by the
characteristics of the instrument and the virtuosity of the musicians who
gave the premiere of the work.

Concertino for Clarinet and String Quartet was commissioned and written for
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and it's Artistic Director
David Shifrin.

Notes by Bright Sheng

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