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Bright Sheng

Publisher: G. Schirmer

China Dreams (1995),
G Schirmer Inc
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
26 Minutes
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Programme Note
Bright Sheng China Dreams (1995),
Related works:
China Dreams
The Stream Flows (for string orchestra)
The Stream Flows (for violin)
The Stream Flows (for viola)
The Three Gorges of the Long River

Composer note:

The four movements that make up China Dreams were composed at different times between 1992 and 1995, when I was composer-in-residence with the Seattle Symphony. Although the first two movements were commissioned respectively by the Houston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic, from the very beginning I had the idea to combine them into a larger symphonic suite. The first movement is dedicated to Christoph Eschenbach and the Houston Symphony; the second is dedicated to Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic; the last two are dedicated to Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony.

The first movement, Prelude, is lyrical and atmospheric; its themes have the folk flavor of the northwest region of China. The next movement is a fanfare – brilliant, percussive and insistent. The Stream Flows, for strings alone, is based on a well-known Chinese folk tune from the Yunnan Province in the south of China. The final movement, The Three Gorges of the Long River (also known as the Yangtze River), continues and develops music introduced in the prelude.

The title China Dreams has two meanings. First, while I was writing this music, I realized that I was very homesick for China, which I had not seen since I left there in 1982. So in a sense it is the music that I as an émigré had to write. Secondly, the first half of the last movement came to me in a dream, and although I usually find that the music I hear in my dreams does not stand up well the next day, this proved to have more staying power.

— Bright Sheng

  • Ensemble
    Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
    Juliana Gondek, Zhang Quiang
    Samuel Wong
  • Ensemble
    Singapore Symphony Orchestra
    Lan Shui
  • G. Schirmer / AMP:
Six seasons ago the Chicago Symphony performed Sheng's H'un, an expressionistic reminiscence of the violence and terror he experienced as a boy growing up in Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution. The four movements of China Dreams bring back some of those remembered horrors -- chiefly in the second, an agitated, high-energy Fanfare of furiously driving rhythms shot through with the dry clatter of percussion and drums. But the other three movements are evocative in effect, exuding a deep lyrical nostalgia for the China the revolution destroyed forever. All bespeak a remarkably skilled fusion of Western compositional techniques and melodic impulses drawn from Chinese folk song....China Dreams is music of eye-witness senses from every measure that these are pieces Sheng as a displaced emigre had to write.
John von Rhein , Chicago Tribune,01/01/0001
The night's premiere was Bright Sheng's "China Dreams," the first movement of which Eschenbach and the orchestra performed two years ago. The remaining three movements are wonderful additions, providing a cross-cultural view of Eastern and Western music by a composer of enormous expressive and sonic skill. "China Dreams" makes use of numerous stylistic elements of Chinese music, including pentatonic scales, sliding figures and majestic dissonances. Sheng incorporated these ideas into four tableaux that reflect Chinese life from long ago and in recent times. His command of the orchestra is such that the pungent mixes of sound always emerge out of the dramatic context. There is power and poetry, as well as sensuous beauty. It is a fierce challenge for the orchestra, both in terms of rhythm and range. Sheng employs ornamental devices that conjure up Chinese rituals or hints of nature. Eschenbach brought fine intensity, clamor and lyrical flexibility to the score. The orchestra unfolded Sheng's spectrum of colors with utmost vibrancy and sometimes piercing vehemence. This is an impressive and moving work that collects diverse strands and weaves them into a probing tapestry.
Donald Rosenberg, Cleveland Plain Dealer,01/01/0001
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