Sheng Takes Center Stage

According to the Chinese calendar, the “Year of the Dog” began on 29 January. On 23 February, the Philadelphia Orchestra rings in the Chinese New Year with their premiere of Bright Sheng’s Concerto for Orchestra: Zodiac Tales, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. “When the Philadelphia Orchestra approached me with this commission,” Sheng recalls, “they told me they also wanted to reach out to the local Chinese community. For some time, I had been planning to write a piece based on the Chinese zodiacs — which was an idea my father suggested to me — and I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to do so.” The 25-minute, sixmovement work is dedicated to Eschenbach. Movement No. 5 — “The Tomb of the Soulful Dog” — was written in memory of the composer’s mother who was born in the “Year of the Dog,” and passed away a year ago. “Every Chinese,” Sheng notes, “is born in a year of a specific animal which accompanies the person throughout their life...Throughout the years, the Chinese have gradually changed some of the iconic animals to the ones that were part of their daily lives, except for the dragon. Although many legends of these cosmic animals were written throughout Chinese history, it is not my intention to tone-paint these stories. Instead, some of the most vivid images of these largely fictional tales gave me inspiration as point of departure to compose.” New York City Ballet has appointed Bright Sheng as its composer in residence. Sheng’s term began on 1 January and runs through 2007. Sheng is the first composer to take up the post in NYCB’s six-year-old artist-in-residence program, and as part of his residency, he will compose two new ballets that will premiere in 2007 and 2008, to be choreographed by Christopher Wheldon and Peter Martins. Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux will create a new ballet to some of Sheng’s existing music, which premieres this spring (with Sheng conducting) as part of New York City Ballet’s Diamond Project Festival. “New music and the commissioning of scores is traditionally a vital element in the life of New York City Ballet,” notes music director Andrea Quinn. “We are very proud and honored to have the world-renowned composer Bright Sheng join the music staff as composer in residence. Bright’s music is characterized by extraordinary beauty and textural exoticism as well as rhythmic drive, and we are truly looking forward to having such an experienced and exciting composer as part of our team.” Sheng will also conduct the company’s orchestra, take part in educational activities, and participate in the New York Choreographic Institute — the Ballet’s training program for choreographers and composers. Sheng is no stranger to the dance world. His music was previously choreographed by Bonnefoux in “Zoomin’” for the North Carolina Dance Theatre, and Helgi Tomasson and the San Francisco Ballet created the ballet “Chi-Lin,” which toured to New York City in a production conducted by Sheng.