Bright Sheng - Red Silk Dance

updated 2 March 2001

Bright Sheng
Red Silk Dance (1999)
for piano and orchestra
Piano; 2(2pic).22(Ebcl).2/4230/timp.3perc/str
Duration: 15'

World Premiere: 6 January 2000
Emanuel Ax, piano
Boston Symphony Orchestra; Robert Spano, conductor
Boston, MA

Critical Acclaim:

Robert Spano is [a] conductor that believes every mixed program he conducts should include a 20th-century American work. To that commitment we owe the premiere of Bright Sheng's charming Red Silk Dance. Sheng's new piece is a 15-minute musical hors d'oeuvre, a genre that has virtually disappeared...[His] music is bright, ingenious, and entertaining. Although it is multicultural, it is also unpretentious.

The piece stands at a crosswords on the old trade route that ran between dynastic China and imperial Rome. It incorporates diverse ancient Eastern musical cultures, as well as diverse Western ones — you can hear Brahms, Prokofiev, Bartok and Hindemith in it. It begins with a strong, percussive rhythmical pattern, syncopated between piano and timpani. The opening is already enjoyable, but the real fun begins when the pianist begins doubling, and then redoubling, the number of notes he must play to fit within the pattern, while the orchestration correspondingly intensifies. When it becomes impossible to play any faster, the music morphs into a clam and atmospheric slow movement that gives way to a bit of scherzo scampering over the whole range of the keyboard before returning to the opening material for the finale.
— Richard Dyer, Boston Globe

Sheng's Red Silk Dance, a capriccio for piano and orchestra, is said to take its inspiration from the Silk Road. A spiky and scintillating Bartokian effusion, it combines the noise and energy of Chinese percussion, translated and expanded to symphonic terms, with gaudy colors and piquant flavors drawn from all along the way, like so many jewels and spices. The piece was commissioned by the Boston Symphony for Emanuel Ax, who played it with appropriate flair and drive.
— James R. Oestreich, New York Times


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