In traditional Chinese music, almost without exception, a composition is decorated with a descriptive title. In addition, different sections within one work (even when played without interruption) are often given different names. These titles, though not necessarily programmatic, usually suggest and evoke the essential character and nature of a work, and traditionally they benefit all three groups of people participating in a composition: the composer, the performer, and the listener. While the advantages for a listener might be obvious, a title also typically serves as a fountainhead for the composer’s imagination (whether it was given before, during, or after the completion of the work) and as a point of departure for the recreation by the performer, frequently the composer.
The first movement, Midnight Bells
, is inspired by a Tang Dynasty poem:
The pale moon falls into the frost swept universe,
disquieted only by cries from the crow;
Fisherman’s light, glittering on the maple leaves,
torments the sleepless pilgrim
Far beyond the walls of Su-zhou
From the temples in the Chilly Mountains
Echoes of the midnight bells chime over the visitor’s boat.
Chang Ji (?-780)
Some of the materials in the second movement, Spring Opera
, is derived from an instrumental interlude of the well-known Peking Opera, Farewell My Concubine
, in which princess Yu bids farewell to her lord with a sword dance before she kills herself. Although inspired by the character of the music, it is not my intention to recreate the dance scene in the movement.
The word chun
(spring) in classical Chinese also has strong connotations of lust and sensual love.
In 1996, I was asked by Yo-Yo Ma to write a concerto for cello and an orchestra of traditional Chinese instruments. The resulting work, Spring Dreams
was premiered on 20 February 1997 at Carnegie Hall, with Yo-Yo Ma as solo cellist with the Central Orchestra of Traditional Chinese Instruments, conducted by Hu Bingxu. This ensemble subsequently performed the piece in seventeen cities during a U.S. tour that spring.
One of the audience members at the Carnegie Hall premiere was violinist Cho-Liang Lin, who then contacted the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra for the commission of tonight’s version for violin and orchestra of Chinese traditional instruments.
This version of Spring Dreams
is dedicated to Cho-Liang Lin.