Last night I heard the Seattle Symphony perform Bright Sheng's Shanghai Overture composed in 2007. Shanghai Overture contains biting harmonies and textural shifts that titillated the ears of both the audience and orchestra. It was delightful to watch the smiling faces of symphony members acknowledge curious sounds travel through the percussion, strings, winds and brass. I was amazed at how gracefully the music continually transitioned throughout this 8+ minute work.
This reminded me that one of the most significant lessons Bright taught me was that western classical music is about transitions. In addition to my weekly composition lesson, Bright convened a few students to analyze classical music from a composer's perspective. I remember analyzing a Brahms Intermezzo with him and two other students. Bright sat at the piano and played the music, then pointed out ways the rhythmic and melodic motifs continually appeared in ingenious configurations throughout the work. The seamless transitions that Brahms was able to achieve is a compositional technique I continue to value.
While Shanghai Overture references Chinese melodies, rhythms and timbres, the composition is scored for symphony orchestra. Bright considers this work neo-Classical. He shows how the modularity of Chinese folk music and the developmental aspects of western classical music co-exist in a sophisticated and exciting way. I consider this a Bright Idea (!)
The Seattle Symphony reprises Shanghai Overture along with works by Gunther Schuller and Alexander Borodin, plus a stunning performance by Gil Shaham performing Béla Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 2 this Saturday, January 08, 2011.