Russian composer creates unique work based on Dunhuang
By Zhang Kun in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-27 09:05
Russian composer Viktor Vasilievich Pleshak's creation, The Silk Road Suite, premiered at the Shanghai Symphony Hall on April 11. [Photo provided to China Daily]
The rich imagery and colors on the Buddhist murals and statues in Dunhuang have inspired Russian composer Viktor Vasilievich Pleshak. His creation, The Silk Road Suite, premiered at the Shanghai Symphony Hall on April 11.
The Silk Road Suite - a project supported by the China National Arts Fund - is the first symphony composition about Dunhuang, a major stop on the ancient Silk Road, and the nearby Mogao Caves, where large numbers of Buddhist frescos have survived for more than 1,000 years. The suite consists of nine movements, featuring four Chinese soloists and the Lanzhou Symphony Orchestra from Gansu province, in the northwestern part of China.
The concert was conducted by Zhu Man, a female conductor from the China National Opera House.
The Russian composer, aged 73, was not present at the concert in Shanghai, but his portrayal of Dunhuang and the Silk Road is inspired by what he saw and felt while visiting the Mogao Caves in February 2018, as well as sounds and colors from the Silk Road, such as the hustle and bustle of the bazaar fairs in west Asian countries, says Zhu.
Speaking about the show, Shanghai-based music critic, Tang Ruofu, says: "The choice of Chinese instruments like erhu and pipa was clearly inspired by murals in the Dunhuang grottoes, while the vocalization of the soprano was an idea borrowed from Rachmaninoff. Together they form an epic musical adventure into the wild west of China."
A versatile musician adept with many forms of music, Pleshak combined his perception of the Silk Road with his own background of Russian music, creating a piece that was very different from a Chinese composition, says Zhu.
There has been some Chinese music composed featuring the Silk Road, especially Dunhuang, but Pleshak's creation has opened a new door, inviting Western audiences to get to know about them.
The publicity department of Gansu province had earlier proposed the creation of an orchestrated music production about the murals in the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang and the Silk Road, hoping to present the rich cultural heritage of China in a universal musical vocabulary, says Shen Tong, head of the Gansu Cultural Development Group Co. The State-owned enterprise is the production company of The Silk Road Suite.
The concert is one of the 37 productions that comprise the Shanghai Spring International Music Festival, which began on April 8 and runs through April 28.
Speaking about Gansu's backing for the show, Shen says: "We are greatly honored to premiere the Silk Road Suite at the festival in Shanghai. We are proud to present our creation at this international music event, and have more communications with musicians and audiences from all over the world."
The Lanzhou Symphony Orchestra, which performs the piece, was founded in 1973, and separated from the Lanzhou Song and Dance Theatre in 2008.
Speaking about the largest orchestra in Gansu, Zhu says it has "risen and flourished in a new wave of classical music development all over China."
She also says that many internationally-acclaimed conductors and musicians have worked with the Lanzhou Symphony, such as conductors Zheng Xiaoying, Yu Long and Li Xincao, pianist Lang Lang and cellist Yo-yo Ma, and that their participation has helped the orchestra to achieve a high level of professionalism that is rare in the northwest of China.
Since 2017, the Lanzhou Symphony has also successfully presented large opera productions such as Turandot and La Boheme both at home and abroad.