• str
  • Cello
  • 20 min

Programme Note

First Performance
October 26, 2012
Trey Lee, cello
Munich Chamber Orchestra; Alex Liebreich, cond.
New Vision Arts Festival, Hong Kong, China

The Blazing Mirage was inspired by the phenomenon of Dunhuang Caves, which arguably has kept the greatest Buddhist art frescos and manuscript documents dating back to the fourth century, spanning over one thousand years.

I consider Dunhuang a miraculous phenomenon — the colossal treasures not only survived over millennia of time, but also endured many political and religious reigns. As a result, Dunhuang represents a cultural mélange: although most of the frescos and manuscripts were about Buddhism (of Indian origin), there were images and documents on other religions such as Taoism, Nestorianism, and even Judaism; and, in addition to the Chinese language, the Dunhuang Manuscripts found in the caverns were also written in Tibetan, Uighur, Sanskrit, Pali, Sogdian, and Khotanese. Along with the manuscripts, music scores in a lost notational system were found, and several attempts of ‘decoding’ have been made in recent decades. Interestingly, there is a stylistic similarity among these diverse interpretations — the music all sounds with a piquant Central Asian flavor.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Dunhuang Caves is that it opened a window, letting us observe the lives of ancient times that reflected this fusion. In fact, it was a testimony of how Chinese culture and Central Asian cultures have influenced, infiltrated, and to some extent, shaped each other.

It is from that angle that I approached this composition. The work starts with a cello recitative based on a Mukam (a Central Asian classical music form) motif I heard in the region during my first Silk Road field trip. The string orchestra introduces a well-known folk song from northern Shanxi, a province where Chang An, the ancient Chinese capital, is located. At first, these two ideas appeared to be distinctive, but as the music continues through songs and dances, they gradually transform into one mélange.

The title of the composition came from a legend: in 366 AD, a Buddhist monk had a vision of a thousand Buddhas glittering in golden lights, and that prophecy inspired him to build the first cave on the rocks of Dunhuang.

—Bright Sheng