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Bright Sheng

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Northern Lights (2010)
G Schirmer Inc
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
Piano + 1 Instrument
Year Composed
20 Minutes
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Programme Note
Bright Sheng Northern Lights (2010)
July 3 2010
Audun Sandvik, cello, and Kristian Lindberg, piano
The Troldhauge (Grieg's house)

Composer Note

Folk music has been my fascination and creative resource for over four decades. In the early 1970’s, I first became infatuated with the folks songs of Qinghai (eastern Tibet), a rare fusion and crossover of several ethnic folk cultures in the region. Subsequently, during my undergraduate years at The Shanghai Conservatory of Music, I further systematically studied Chinese folk music traditions. Shortly after I moved to the United States in the early 1980’s, my interest was broadened to include music cultures surrounding China, and the relationship of how these cultures had influenced, intermingled, and infiltrated each other. This let to my series of studies of the music cultures along the Silk Road, an ancient trading route between the old empires of China and Rome, while helping my friend Yo Yo Ma launch the Silk Road Project. I have also been captivated by American folk music for decades, especially blue grass and country music; and it has long been my hope to find pretext to include these elements in my work.

My friends Inger and Bill Ginsberg live in New York City and in Hellen, Norway, where Inger was born. During one conversation, Bill, well versed in the Norwegian culture, introduced me to Norwegian and Scandinavian folk music. I became even more excited when, after further examination, I noticed its kinship with some forms of American country music, such as Appalachian and Bluegrass.

In many ways, composing music in various styles is similar to a writer using different languages; and the work is usually most effective when the author is most comfortable with the language. On the other hand, for a range of reasons, many literary giants attempted their second (or even third) language to great results. Northern Lights is my first attempt to integrate Norwegian/Scandinavian folk music; and it probably has a linguistic accent. However, as a student who is embarking his first performance with a newly-learned language, I am fully excited with the probability of including another tongue in my works.

The title of the work, Northern Lights, refers to an astronomical natural phenomenon also known as polar lights (aurora polaris), which are shafts or curtains of fantastically colored light visible on occasion in the night sky, particularly in countries of the polar regions, such as Norway.

– Bright Sheng

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Indeed, striking timbres and rhythmic vitality were the chief assets of “Northern Lights,” a 25-minute work in four movements. The cello’s double-stopped lines, drones and eerie keening evoked Norway’s hardanger fiddle. The piano part, though seemingly cool and reticent, included treacherous metrical juxtapositions; in one eye-popping measure near the end of the third movement, five-beat patterns in the right hand scuttled over groupings of three and four notes in the left.
Steve Smith, New York Times,12/11/2010
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