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Spring Dreams (1997)

Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra of Traditional Chinese Instruments

I. Midnight Bells
II. Spring Opera

This work was commissioned for Yo-Yo Ma and The National Traditional Orchestra of China by The Carnegie Hall Corporation The New York premiere was given at Carnegie Hall, New York City on Thursday, February 20, 1997 The work was also supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Program Note

In traditional Chinese instrumental music, almost without exception, a composition is decorated with a descriptive title. In addition, different sections within one work (even when played without interruption) are often given different names. These titles, though not necessarily programmatic, usually suggest and evoke the essential character and nature of a work, and traditionally they benefit all three groups of people participating in a composition: the composer, the performer and the listener. While the advantages for a listener might be obvious, a title also typically serves as a “judging-off point” for the composer’s imagination (whether it was given before, during or after the completion of the work) and as a point of departure for the recreation by the performer, frequently the composer.

The word chun (spring) in classical Chinese also has strong connotations of lust and sensual love.

The first movement, Midnight Bells, is in part inspired by some of the lines in a Tang Dynasty poem:

…And, from afar, of the temples
in the Chilly Mountains,
The sound of the midnight bells
sings over the arriving boat.
—Chang Ji (? - 780)

Some of the materials in the second movement, Spring Opera, are derived from an instrumental interlude of the Well-known Peking Opera, Farewell My Concubine, in which princess Yu bids farewell to her lord with a sward dance before she kills herself. Although inspired by the character of the music, it is not my intention to recreate the dance scene in this movement.

Spring Dreams was commissioned for Yo-Yo Ma and The National Traditional Orchestra of China by The Carnegie Hall Corporation. The premiere performance was given at Memorial Auditorium, Worcester, MA, on February 19, 1997 and the New York premiere on February 20, 1997, at Carnegie Halh, by the National Traditional Orchestra of China, with Yo Yo Ma as the soloist. The work is dedicated to Yo-Yo Ma.

—Bright Sheng