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Bright Sheng

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Red Silk Dance (1999)
G Schirmer Inc
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
15 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Bright Sheng Red Silk Dance (1999)
Composer Note:

This work was inspired and influenced by the music from the Silk Road culture. For thousands of years the caravans of the Silk Road had made voyages through the ancient trading route linking the two greatest civilizations of the time between China and Rome. More importantly, the Silk Road had opened up an enormous cultural and religious exchange among the countries between Asia and Europe.

It was not an accident that the Silk Road began in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) and reached its zenith during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), the two longest and most highly artistic and prosperous dynasties in Chinese history. Unlike the history of European cultures, early Chinese civilization largely developed independently from the rest of the world. Thus throughout history, many rulers believed the importance for China to stay away from "foreign influences." The emperors from the Han and Tang dynasties were notable exceptions.

They were confident enough to allow other cultures to infiltrate into their own. Chang’an (now Xi’an, a northwestern city in China where the Terra Cotta Soldiers were unearthed), the capital of both dynasties, was the departure point and final destination of the Silk Road. By 742, the size of the city was five by six miles with a population of two million, including over 5,000 foreigners. Numerous religions and cultures were represented and the city contained the temples, churches, and synagogues of Nestorians, Manicheans, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and Christians, among others. Foreigners from Turkey, Iran, Arabia, Sogdia, Mongolia, Armenia, India, Korea, Malaya, and Japan regularly lived in Chang’an.

As a result, Chinese culture was greatly enriched. In music, for example, of the ten genres of Chinese music the Tang court catalogued, only two were genuine Chinese (one traditional and one contemporary). The rest of them were all from other cultures: Persian, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, and Tibetan, to name just a few. And influences from other countries are still evident in Chinese music today, especially in the folk and operatic music of the northwestern provinces where the Silk Road culture had been rich. Distinct from the rest of China, the music there is not pentatonic and its unique melodic configurations can be traced back to the music of Tibet, Mongolia, central Asia and Iran.

—Bright Sheng

  • Ensemble
    Seattle Symphony
    Bright Sheng (piano) Shana Blake Hill (soprano)
    Gerard Schwarz
    Naxos: American Classics:
  • 17 SEP 2010
    Red Silk Dance Country Premiere
    Theatre Cottbus

    Other Dates:
    19 September - Germany
  • 14 APR 2010
    Bilbao Symphonic Orchestra
    Muhai Tang, conductor

    Other Dates:
    15 April - Spain
  • 21 JUN 2008
    Red Silk Dance European Premiere
    Gulbenkian Orchestra

    Other Dates:
    22 June - Portugal

Robert Spano is [a] conductor that believes every mixed program he conducts should include a 20th-century American work. To that commitment we owe the premiere of Bright Sheng's charming Red Silk Dance. Sheng's new piece is a 15-minute musical hors d'oeuvre, a genre that has virtually disappeared...[His] music is bright, ingenious, and entertaining. Although it is multicultural, it is also unpretentious. The piece stands at a crosswords on the old trade route that ran between dynastic China and imperial Rome. It incorporates diverse ancient Eastern musical cultures, as well as diverse Western ones — you can hear Brahms, Prokofiev, Bartok and Hindemith in it. It begins with a strong, percussive rhythmical pattern, syncopated between piano and timpani. The opening is already enjoyable, but the real fun begins when the pianist begins doubling, and then redoubling, the number of notes he must play to fit within the pattern, while the orchestration correspondingly intensifies. When it becomes impossible to play any faster, the music morphs into a clam and atmospheric slow movement that gives way to a bit of scherzo scampering over the whole range of the keyboard before returning to the opening material for the finale.
Richard Dyer , Boston Globe,01/01/0001
Sheng's Red Silk Dance, a capriccio for piano and orchestra, is said to take its inspiration from the Silk Road. A spiky and scintillating Bartokian effusion, it combines the noise and energy of Chinese percussion, translated and expanded to symphonic terms, with gaudy colors and piquant flavors drawn from all along the way, like so many jewels and spices. The piece was commissioned by the Boston Symphony for Emanuel Ax, who played it with appropriate flair and drive.
James R. Oestreich , New York Times ,01/01/0001
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