Bright Sheng : The Singing Gobi Desert
February 3, 2012
PRISM Quartet and Music from China
Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
The Singing Gobi Desert was written for the PRISM Quartet and Music from China. The work calls for nine players: erhu/zhonghu (二胡/中胡), sheng (笙), pipa (琵琶), yangqin (扬琴), saxophone quartet (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone) and percussion (marimba [five octaves], crotales, glockenspiel, bell tree, small suspended cymbal, wind gong, large tam-tam, two bangos [high and low] and two congas [high and low]).
The Gobi Desert, which covers much part of the famed ancient Silk Road, is well-known for a natural phenomenon the singing-sands, a noise made by sand grains as they pass over each other when wind moves them across the surface of sand dunes. Unlike most sand particles, which are coarse and irregular, the particles of the singing-sands are round and smooth. In dry weather conditions, these particles of sand rub against each other, creating an eerie musical sound.
I first experienced the singing-sands of the Gobi Desert in 2000, during a field trip of Silk Road music culture in northwest China. The overwhelming variety and beauty of folk and traditional music in the region profoundly changed me, and altered my understanding of Chinese history and Chinese culture. The title of the work, which is written in three continuous movements, reflects my personal experiences on the trip, and the music I heard and collected.
Mr. Sheng, in introducing “The Singing Gobi Desert,” played down its programmatic title, calling the piece a capriccio or fantasia. Still, like the glassy “singing” sands in the desert of the title, disparate timbres intermingled gently and smoothly in strong melodic themes, which sang out with potency and unambiguous sweetness.
Steve Smith, New York Times, 06/02/2012