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 phoenixthe 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 creationa bird of epic proportion and majestic inspiration, and the muse of all peoples.