Bight Sheng | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Bight Sheng 

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Two defining experiences color the music of Bright Sheng. One was the hardship he went through during the Cultural Revolution in the early 70s, when he was sent to the Tibetan border as a pianist in a folk-music and -dance troupe. The other was his exposure to Western music, first through recordings of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, and then under the tutelage of the likes of Leonard Bernstein and Hugo Weisgall. Sheng came to the U.S. in the early 80s, earned a doctorate from Columbia University, then served as the Lyric Opera's composer in residence from '89 to '92. His reputation as both a deft adapter of Chinese motifs to European styles and a forceful conveyor of emotion spread on the strength of H'un (Lacerations): In Memoriam 1966-76, a 1988 orchestral work that captures the pain and suffering of that tumultuous decade. After his Lyric stint, Sheng moved around the country before finally settling in Ann Arbor, where he teaches at the University of Michigan, and he's been prolific all the while, completing a number of commissions and winning a MacArthur grant. Sheng may not be as innovative as his contemporaries Tan Dun or Chen Yi, and he's more prone to facile gestures, but his work is always impeccably crafted and never boring--at its best it blends Eastern and Western modes of expression in a manner worthy of Bartok. Sheng will be in town this week for a lecture-concert exploring his music (and again in May at an event presented by Chicago Chamber Musicians). On Sunday he'll talk about his career in between performances, live and taped, of three recent works. "May I Feel Said He" is a six-minute "opera" inspired by the E.E. Cummings poem; soprano Alicia Berneche and tenor James Cornelison, both affiliated with the Lyric, will sing it with piano accompaniment from Sheng and Fiona Queen. Violinist Yuan-Qing Yu, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's assistant concertmaster, is the soloist on "The Stream Flows," which is based on a Chinese melody. Video clips from the Lincoln Center production of Silver River, a 1997 opera with libretto by David Henry Hwang, will also be screened. Sunday, April 6, 2 PM, Fullerton Hall, Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan and Adams; 312-443-3600 or 312-575-8000.

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