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Available Recording

Red Silk Dance



Bright Sheng with Peng Chen, Jody and Gerard Schwarz after a rehearsal of Red Silk Dance, played by Bright Sheng and conducted by Gerard Schwarz with Seatle Symphony Orchestra.

Red Silk Dance (1999)

Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra

Performance Note

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

Program Note

Red Silk Dance for piano and orchestra was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra for Emanuel Ax, pianist. First performance: January 6th, 2000 with Robert Spano conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Emanuel Ax as the soloist, at Symphony Hall in Boston. The orchestra calls for two flutes (both double the piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, percussions (large bass drum, triangle, wind gong, 4 bongos, 2 congas, small suspended cymbal, large tam-tam [60”], slapsticks, large tambourine, ruthe, large temple block, xylophone, chimes, ratchet, glockenspiel) and strings. It is dedicated to Emanuel Ax.

This work was inspired and influenced by the music from the Silk Road culture.

For thousands of years the caravans of the Silk Road had made voyages through the ancient trading route linking the two greatest civilizations of the time between China and Rome. More importantly, the Silk Road had opened up an enormous cultural and religious exchange among the countries between Asia and Europe.

It was not an accident that the Silk Road began in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AC) and reached its zenith during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AC), the two longest and most highly artistic and prosperous dynasties in Chinese history. Unlike the history of European cultures, early Chinese civilization largely developed independently from the rest of the world. Thus throughout history, many rulers believed the importance for China to stay away from “foreign influences”. The emperors from the Han and Tang dynasties were notable exceptions. They were confident enough to allow other cultures to infiltrate into their own. Chang’an (now Xi’an, a northwestern city in China where the Terra Cotta Soldiers were unearthed), the capital of both dynasties, was the departure point and final destination of the Silk Road. By 742, the size of the city was five by six miles with a population of two million, including over 5,000 foreigners. Numerous religions and cultures were represented and the city contained the temples, churches and synagogues of Nestorians, Manicheans, Zorastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Christians, among others. Foreigners from Turkey, Iran, Arabia, Sogdia, Mongolia, Armenia, India, Korea, Malaya and Japan regularly lived in Chang’an.

As a result, Chinese culture was greatly enriched. In music, for example, of the ten genres of Chinese music the Tang court cataloged, only two were genuine Chinese (one traditional and one contemporary). The rest of them were all from other cultures: Persian, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, and Tibetan, to name just a few. And influences from other cultures are still evident in Chinese music today, especially in the folk and operatic music of the northwestern provinces where the Silk Road culture had been rich. Distinct from the rest of China, the music there is not pentatonic and its unique melodic configurations can be traced back to the music of Tibet, Mongolia, Central Asia and Iran.



—Bright Sheng