Duration: 9 minutes
Commissioned by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music for the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, Radiant Light is a one movement concerto for Sheng and Orchestra based on the traditional Chinese melody, “Joy with Sunrise”. In May 2017, I was selected for the SCM’s “Listening to China” project, a collaboration that commissioned composers from around the world to write a piece for orchestra using Chinese melodies and instruments.
The primary material for the piece comes from the folk song [太阳出来喜洋洋], which originally came from the Southwest region of China and was sung by lumberjacks going up to the mountain in the morning. As with many folk songs, the melody is simple and memorable, consisting of five tones only (Bb, C, Eb, F, G).
Taking the tune as the inspiration, I began to think about how to go about writing this piece. I’ve always wanted to work with Sheng, and since the organizers gave me the freedom to do so, I picked it as my soloist instrument. Its brash sound and polyphonic abilities of the instrument fitted well with the soundworld I had imagined for the piece. Plus, I had never written for sheng before so this would be the perfect opportunity to try new things both musically and technically speaking.
The piece begins quietly with slow glissando and woodwind flourishes, conjuring the quiet beauty of the first light. As I was thinking about the form of the piece, the image of the sun rising over the mountains became the catalyst and inspiration. Not only was the sunrise beautiful and ethereal, it has been a signal for the human race to begin work and labor for the day. The music progresses from a place of tranquility to intensity, reflecting the awesome power that has driven us to grow and flourish as a species.
Nov 13, 2017 – Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, Zhang Liang conducting – Shanghai Symphony Hall, China