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Nanking! Nanking!

A Threnody for Orchestra and Pipa* 2000


*The Pipa needs to be amplified with a single speaker placed near the soloist. The house system should not be used.



The work is jointly commissioned by Norddeutscher Rundfunk and Mr. Marshall Cloyd for SIEBEN HORIZONTE (Seven Horizons) a concert for the new millennium on January 2nd, 2000, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach.

The work is dedicated to Christoph Eschenbach.

The orchestration calls for three flutes (second doubles second piccolo, third doubles first piccolo), three oboes (third doubles English horn), three clarinets in Bb (second doubles Eb clarinet, third doubles bass clarinet), three bassoons (third doubles contra bassoon), four horns in F, three trumpets in C (third doubles trumpet in Bb), three trombones, tuba, timpani, four percussionists (ratchet, slapstick, low lion roar, large bass drum, low temple block, large tam-tam [60"], Chinese opera gong [ca. 11"], Chinese opera cymbal [ca. 7"],wind gong, very high wood block, guiro, cow bells (a set of 4), brake drum, bangos [a set of 4], xylophone) harp, piano, solo pipa and strings.

In December 1937, in what was then the capital of China, one of the most brutal massacres in the long annals of wartime barbarity occurred. The Japanese army swept into the ancient city of Nanking (Nanjing) and within weeks not only looted and burned the defenseless city but systematically raped, tortured, and murdered more that 300,000 Chinese civilians. Amazingly, the story of this atrocity--one of the worst in world history—continues to be unknown from public consciousness.

This work is written in memory of the victims, not a recreation of the barbarity. For someone who did not live through this horrifying episode, the story only exists in the realm of its author’s imagination. Here I try to tell a story from the world of one person (the pipa), who is not only a victim, but also a witness and survivor.

But it is also a story of human spirits, of the people in Nanking who had endured and survived this cruel violence when the government was incapable of defending its own citizens. There were also heroes during these darkest pages in history, a handful of Westerners (including a businessman from Hamburg) who risked their lives in order to save Nanking civilians. Ultimately, it is the humanity that triumphs.

—Bright Sheng




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