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Bright Sheng

Publisher: G. Schirmer

The Phoenix (2004)
G Schirmer Inc
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
23 Minutes
Programme Note
Bright Sheng The Phoenix (2004)
Composer Note:

In the spring of 2003, I was approached by both the Seattle Symphony and the Danish National Symphony to write a new work for each orchestra. The Seattle Symphony requested a work for voice and orchestra for the superb soprano Jane Eaglen for the Symphony’s centennial celebration; and the commission from the Danish National Symphony would be for the bicentennial birth anniversary of Hans Christian Andersen.

I have always been fascinated by Hans Christian Andersen’s work. Growing up in China, I read almost all of his fairy tales, which were popular in their Chinese translations. However, while perusing through Andersen’s works, I came upon a prose text called The Bird Phoenix, which I had never read before. I was immediately drawn to the thought of combining the two projects together.

When I discovered Andersen’s telling of this ancient tale, I was attracted not only to the beautiful and beguiling narrative, but also moved by the profundity and the majestic portrayal of the mystical bird phoenix—the bird of Arabia. I found Andersen’s interpretation of the bird to be illuminating in that it went far beyond the traditional understanding of the legend. He had transformed the celebrated bird into the muse of all artistic creation—a bird of epic proportion and majestic inspiration, and the muse of all peoples.

—Bright Sheng

  • Ensemble
    Seattle Symphony
    Bright Sheng (piano) Shana Blake Hill (soprano)
    Gerard Schwarz
    Naxos: American Classics:
It was an evening rich with musical imagery...Bright Sheng's ode to music's immortality, PHOENIX, set to a libretto inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's tale...Sheng's music, a dialog of Eastern and Western sensibilities, is at times as highly colored as Stravinsky, other times subtle and sinuous, with suggestions of birdlike sounds from a large wind combination, especially piccolo and oboe, and suspenseful vibrato and pizzicato from the strings. And this work, which begins in the Garden in Eden, had both those elements, rising and subsiding like flood tides. The audience was on its feet after this modern masterpiece premiered [and] it's sure to be part of Seattle Symphony's repertoire for decades to come.
Diane Wright, Seattle Times,01/01/0001
Bright Sheng’s Phoenix gave a vivid musical depiction of a classic fable, [and] featured a soprano singing the prose libretto with the orchestra…in Sheng’s work the vocal line carries words through strange intervals and rhythms, pleasant, eerily lovely…[it was] complex but wonderfully powerful combination of voice and unique orchestration…
Judith White, The Saratogian,01/01/0001
Sheng’s mystical Phoenix (2004) [is] based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, which Sheng adapted. It featured music that was frequently descriptive of the text. There was a lot of texture and color with delicate tonal sections, busy frenetic passages with simulated bird calls, and the terrific, majestic pages where the percussion and brass sections help the phoenix to rise from its ashes.
Geraldine Freedman, The Saratoga Daily Gazette,01/01/0001
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