Bright Sheng's China Dreams | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Bright Sheng's China Dreams 

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Bright Sheng is a descendant of Bartok, Copland, and Prokofiev--a 20th-century national composer who deftly incorporates folk materials into emotionally expressive, technically brilliant works molded by the mainstream. Like those composers, he pays attention to--and is unfettered by--the avant-garde orthodoxies of the moment, but he's not a conservative nostalgic for the harmonic world of the 19th century. Born in Shanghai, he grew up listening to Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and other Western titans approved by the communist authorities. Then came the Cultural Revolution, and Sheng was dispatched to the hinterlands bordering Tibet, where he played piano for folk-music and dance troupes. In 1982 he graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory and emigrated to New York, where he studied with an eclectic group of mentors ranging from George Perle to Leonard Bernstein to Jack Beeson. Seven years after arriving, Sheng was a runner-up for a Pulitzer prize with H'un, a nuanced, coloristic orchestral evocation of the horrors he endured during the Cultural Revolution that has received encore performances from many orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His next major work, completed while serving as the Seattle Symphony's composer in residence, was China Dreams, inspired by his first visit home in 14 years. This half-hour tone poem has a pastoral expansiveness that brings to mind the symphonies of Copland and Howard Hanson, with Sheng skillfully weaving vaguely dissonant Chinese folk melodies into a rich, exotic sonic tapestry. The CSO, under the baton of Christoph Eschenbach, will give China Dreams its local premiere, on a program with Haydn's Oxford Symphony and Beethoven's Symphony no. 7. Sheng will discuss his work one hour before each concert. Friday and Saturday, 8 PM, and Sunday, 3 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000.


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