Bright Sheng, the Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor of Composition at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, is widely regarded as one of the foremost composers of our time, with stage, orchestral, chamber, and vocal works performed regularly throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Called “a fresh voice in cross-cultural music,” his compositions draw from late 20th-century contemporary classical movements as well as the folk music of his native China and the surrounding Silk Road region.
Named a MacArthur Fellow in 2001, Sheng began piano studies with his mother at the age of four. He studied at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music before moving to New York City in 1982. As a student at Tanglewood he met Leonard Bernstein, who became his mentor. Among his recent honors he received a special commission from the White House to create a new work honoring the visiting Chinese premier, he was among the composers chosen by the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Committee to write music for the opening ceremony, and he was appointed the first composer-in-residence for New York City Ballet. He has provided the following note:
“Shanghai Overture was originally written for orchestra, a commission by my alma mater, the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, in celebration of its 80th anniversary. It was premiered on November 27, 2007, by the Youth Symphony Orchestra of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, conducted by Muhai Tang.
“In Western music, the term neo-Classical primarily refers to a movement in music composition prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s. While the main aesthetics of the style emphasizes textural clarity, light orchestration, and formal balance, some of the compositions were directly linked to specific composers from earlier periods. The most well-known composer of the movement was Igor Stravinsky, in a number of works, including a neo-Bachian piano concerto, a neo-Pergolesian suite (Pulcinella), and a neo-Mozartian opera (The Rake’s Progress).
“I always wondered what the result would be if I would adopt a similar concept and some of the techniques of the neo-Classical style and apply them to traditional Chinese classical or folk music. Although my approach is somewhat different from Stravinsky, I took the opportunity to explore the idea when I was asked to write a short composition for the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.
“Shanghai Overture is inspired by two well-known traditional Chinese works, General’s Degree (???) and Purple Bamboo (???). Whereas both came from the same region near Shanghai, they differ vastly in character and color, one is grand and powerful while the other is light and elegant.
“Shanghai Overture for Symphonic Band is dedicated to the Symphony Band at University of Michigan (Michael Haithcock, conductor), where I have been teaching since 1995. This version was commissioned by the Linda and Maurice Binkow Philanthropic Fund.”
— Notes supplied by the University of Michigan