I spent my childhood in Shanghai, so when I heard that the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra was scheduled to perform at Carnegie Hall, I looked forward to welcoming an “old friend” from my home city. The program, led by conductor Long Yu, consisted of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, featuring Lang Lang as soloist, and Chen Qigang’s 2001 composition Iris dévoilée.
Chen Qigang’s Iris dévoilée portrays the various traits, facets, and moods of Woman as an archetype. Written for full orchestra, it combines both western and eastern musical elements using a soprano, a Peking Opera soprano, and traditional Chinese instruments. The work is distinctive in its exploration of light coloration, silken textures, suspended harmonies, and delicate, melodious threads. Particularly striking was a moment during which the two sopranos’ sustained notes blended together in disparate, contrasting vocal tones. Those few seconds were quite special. Overall, it was very satisfying to hear how the quality of playing by this fine orchestra has developed over the years.
During the concert, as I listened intently to Lang Lang performing the Rachmaninoff concerto with an orchestra I hadn’t heard for so many years, I found myself transported from Carnegie Hall to the time when, as a girl, I sat with my mother in the Shanghai Concert Hall, listening to the Shanghai Symphony perform Western classical music. This reminiscence was even more poignant because I had often heard the Rachmaninoff concerto in China. In the 1960s, Shanghai still had an air of sophistication left over from the prosperous period before World War II. Western instruments and music were common, probably because of the strong Russian influence created by China’s alliance with Russia. For us, however, this period was marked by a great deal of hardship, and any opportunity to hear the Shanghai Symphony was special and precious. For me, my mother, and my sister, music was our lifeblood. As we had very little money, music was the one thing that spirited us away from the harsh realities of life: Often, it seemed more important than food. My mother sometimes gave up part of a meal, or sold things like used toothpaste tubes, newspapers, or anything else we could salvage in order to buy tickets for the symphony. My mother was determined that I and my sister should be exposed to every musical experience, no matter the sacrifice.
At the program’s end, as the performers took their bows, exuberant applause filled the subdued elegance of the Hall, with its muted, off-white tones,. Watching the performers leave the stage, a silent, quiet goodbye passed through my thoughts. Life is often circular. This evening was one of those moments.
Posted by Yee Ping Wu, co-founder of Knoa Software and a graduate of The Juilliard School