There were moments, in the piece for bass and piano I heard last night, when I thought, “That sounds like an ehru.” Performed by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Sweet May Again was written for Western instruments. Its title is from the last three words of the poem “The Locust Tree in Flower” by William Carlos Williams. But its composer is Bright Sheng, who is Chinese American. Born in Shanghai and much beloved in the United States and Europe, he is an example of what they mean when they say art transcends borders. When it honored Sheng with its “Genius Award” in 2001, the MacArthur Foundation called him “an innovative composer who merges diverse musical customs in works that transcend conventional aesthetic boundaries.”
The end of the 5-minute Sweet May Again has the bassist bowing a series of long, thin, high notes – a sound that imitates the ehru, a traditional Chinese instrument. Sheng’s bio reveals that he performed traditional music as a youth in the province of Qinghai. He has made the study of Asian musical cultures a lifetime pursuit.
Click here to enjoy the piece for yourself.
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