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  July 29-Aug 05, 2002
Guo Wenjing's Long Road
To Lincoln Center

The Night Banquet  is Guo's second opera and his first collaboration with Chen Shizheng, the director whose production of the Kunju opera "Peony Pavilion" was  banned by the government in 1999 but subsequently staged to great acclaim at the 2000 Lincoln  Festival
Guo Wenjing was born in 1956, in Sichuan, a mountainous region in the Southwestern China and home to witchcraft and shamanic rituals. As a very young child, he taught himself the violin, a present from his parents in an effort to discourage him from loitering on the streets of Chongqing, at that time witness to violent confrontations. 

During the Cultural Revolution, he familiarized himself with the folkmusic of Sichuan, an important influence on his early compositions Between 1970 and 1977 he was a member of the Chongqing Song and Dance Ensemble. 

Guo was selected for the Central Conservatory of music in 1978 and graduated in composition in 1983. He is now a member of the Chinese Musicians' Association, dean and professor of the Composition Department of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.Guo Wenjing's prolific output includes two chamber operas, a choral symphony, three concertos, two symphonic poems and several pieces of chamber music. He has also written the music for twenty films and twenty-five television films.

Since 1985 Guo Wenjing's music has won many national awards for composition in China. Although he lives and works in Beijing, his works have been performed 
at festivals in Amsterdam, Paris, Glasgow, Berlin and Warsaw. His works have been played by Nieuw Ensemble,
 the London Sinfonietta, the New York Music Consort, the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, the Cincinnati Percussion Group, the HuaXia Chinese Ensemble, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra and the BBC Scottish, Göteborg, China National and Taiwan Symphony Orchestras.

He has also written for Chinese traditional ensemble and orchestra. In 1996 Guo Wenjing was invited to the United States of America as a visiting scholar by the Asian Cultural Council, an affiliate of the Rockfeller Brothers Fund. He was also invited to lecture by Swedish Royal Institute of music, the University of Cincinnati - College Conservatory of Music - and the Manhattan School of Music. 

Guo is now completing a harp concerto and starting work on his third opera, which will be based on the life of the 14th Dalai Lama.  - JB


What's Recent

Bright Sheng's Silver River 

Earle Brown Dies

Jennifer Higdon's Concerto for Orchestra Bows

Oliver Knussen at 50

Music for Chillin'

John Eaton's "...inasmuch" Debuts

Lincoln Center Festival

Interview with Gloria Coates

Entering the 21st Century with
Kitty Brazelton
Frank Oteri

Henry Brant's Ice Field
Wins 2002 Pulitizer Prize

Julia Wolfe after minimalism

Philip Glass at 65
Jerry Bowles

An Interview with Steven R. Gerber

New Hall for Philadelphia
Deborah Kravetz

Interview with Poul Ruders

Our writers welcome your comments on their pieces.  Send your witty bon mots tojbowles@sequenza21.com and we might even publish some of them here.  And, don't forget--if you'd like to write for Sequenza21 (understanding that we have no money to pay you), send me a note.  JB


A "DISASTER" FOR BRITISH OPERA? "The troubled English National Opera is considering closing for 16 months, making large numbers of its 500 staff redundant, before shrinking to a part-time company. The ENO, which received £13m in public funds last year, is battling to redress its deficit with a two-year plan to save £700,000, as well as fielding criticism over risky 'toilet humour' productions and mildly disappointing box office figures this season. Across the company, jobs left vacant have not been replaced." And just last week, Nicholas Payne, the ENO's adventurous director was pushed into resigning. The Guardian (UK) 07/26/02 

ABANDONING ITS CORE? The English National Opera is one of the largest opera companies in the world. But the company says it plans to reign in the controversial productions for which it has been famous. Attendance is down, and the company recently forced out its adventurous general director. "Critics of the proposed strategy say that if the company abandons its venerated tradition of performing challenging works solely in English and opts for more obvious crowd-pullers instead, its distinctive edge will be lost. That is the justification for its £13.9 million-a-year subsidy from the Arts Council, which might then be reduced." The Observer (UK) 07/21/02

THE NEW (OLD) SALZBURG: The Salzburg Festival, as envisioned by Gerard Mortier, was an adventurous and often controversial romp through music of many eras, with a damn-the-torpedos spirit which occasionally alienated some high-profile performers. But Mortier is gone, and new festival director Peter Ruzicka has taken a decided turn towards safety and tradition. Mortier's beloved contemporary music series is dead in the water, the ultra-conservative Vienna Philharmonic has been returned to festival prominence, and Mozart and Richard Strauss will be the most prominently featured composers for the foreseeable future. Outrageous? Cowardly? Maybe. But ticket sales are up 16%. Andante 07/26/02

BAD BOY OF MUSIC: Recent translations of Mozart's letters are more exact - and more explicit - than previous versions. The composer's coarse language and preoccupation with body functions is off-putting. The question is - how does his foul demeanor square with the elegance of his music? Andante 07/23/02

SOME GOOD NEWS IN ST. LOUIS: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is doing pretty well for an ensemble which was on the verge of bankruptcy less than a year ago. The SLSO announced this week that it is more than halfway towards a $40 million fund-raising goal which would trigger a matching gift from one of the city's wealthiest families. The vast majority of the funds raised will go towards boosting the orchestra's sagging endowment, and the rest will be used to cover operating expenses and debt. St. Louis Business Journal 07/24/02

SAME OLD SAME OLD: Why does contemporary opera seem so flat? Greg Sandow writes that "if all they do is tell familiar stories in familiar ways, they carry a built-in risk of disappointing audiences. For one thing, ordinary media — movies, books, TV, and theater — already tell these stories perfectly well. What can opera add? Secondly, there's no accepted way to write an opera in our time, no common operatic language that composers all agree on. Each opera — implicitly, at least — has to explain itself. Why does it exist? Why should anybody listen to it? What does it give us that we couldn't get anywhere else?" Andante 07/19/02

WOULDN'T YOU LIKE TO BE A COMPOSER TOO? New music software programs have become so powerful they have put the power of professional studio setups in the hands of the average consumer. "In many ways, the explosion in the power and popularity of these programs is a parallel to the explosion of MP3s and digital distribution of music. MP3s allow artists to work around the traditional record label channels, distributing music directly to fans. Meanwhile, digital music creation tools have given aspiring artists access to tools and sounds that were found only in professional studios (at a prohibitive cost) just a few years ago." Wired 07/23/02

RING-A-DING-DING: Cell phones going off during performances is a major irritation for audience and performer alike. But one composer has written an entire symphony for an orchestra of cell phones. It's called - groan - The New Ring Cycle, and it was performed last weekend in England by the 30-piece mobile orchestra, Cheltenham SIM-phone-ya. Nuff said. BBC 07/23/02

BANDING TOGETHER: The Charlotte- Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina had 4000 5th grade students enrolled in its orchestra programs this past year. But that didn't stop the school board from cutting the program to solve budget problems. Concerned parents and volunteers quickly mobilized to start new private band and orchestra programs and so far have created a program for hundreds of students. "Still, even these optimistic educators say, it will be impossible to replicate the equal opportunity the school system created: The public school programs were largely free, though students did have to rent instruments. Privately run programs cost money." Charlotte Observer 07/21/02

 Last Week's News

Record companies, artists and publicists are invited to submit CDs to be considered for our Editor's Pick's of the month.  Send to: Jerry Bowles, Editor, Sequenza 21, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, NY, NY 10019  Also, feel free to nominate your favorite composer-- even if it's you--for Spotlight of the Week.


Caught in the Act
Bright Sheng, Guo Wenjing:
One From Column A
One From Column B

by Jerry Bowles

Bright Sheng and Guo Wenjing have a 
lot in common.  Both were born in China in the mid-1950s and came of age during Madame Mao’s ruthless “cultural revolution.”  Both write music that combines Chinese and Western modalities, although they owe more to Bartok and Shostokovitch than to Chinese folk music.  Both have used old Chinese myths or tales to construct hip, ironic but enchanting chamber operas about love and good and evil.  Indeed, they have so much in common in terms of life experience and musical style that the differences in their work—Sheng’s The Silver River and Guo’s The Night Banquet—both presented as part this year’s Lincoln Center Festival—seem perhaps more dramatic than they really are.

 The Silver River is based on an ancient Chinese myth of a goddess weaver who becomes so enchanted by a mortal—a cowherd—she neglects to weave the stars that form the “Silver River” (Milky Way) connecting the heavens and earth.  In this production, the lovers are portrayed in duplicate. The Goddess-Weaver is played by an eloquent dancer, Wen-Shuan Yang, as well as by a similarly costumed pipa virtuoso, Hui Li.  The cowherd is played by a splendid baritone, Joseph Kaiser, as well as by a nimble flutist, David Fedele, dressed alike in brown caps, suede vests and black jeans. 

The Jade Emperor (memorably portrayed by Yu-Cheng Ren, who “sings” in the sing-song speech of Chinese opera) disapproves of his daughter’s attachment to the mortal and sends the Golden Buffalo, a lesser goddess, portrayed with total “girl friend” attitude by Karen Kandel, an African-American actress, to bring her to her senses. Golden Buffalo becomes entranced by the mortal world herself, winds up lingering too long with the cowherd and is ultimately deafened by the Emperor for being less helpful than she was supposed to be.

What makes The Silver River so different 
from The Night Banquet is the obviously American-style of theatrical pacing.  Kandel delivers her wise-cracking lines like comedian Flip Wilson doing his old “Geraldine” character and all the actors on the small stage—both cowherds and both Jade-Weavers—are kept busy at all times—half of them twice going for a very short swim in the tank at the front of the stage.  As a result, the opera has all the frenetic energy of a typical episode of “I Love Lucy.”  No doubt, this is partly the taste of American-born Chinese librettist, David Henry Hwang, and Singaporean director, Ong Keng Sen. It’s not necessarily a terrible thing but it does get a little exhausting three-quarters of the way through the show.

Despite its hip pop-cultural references—neon lighting and concubines riding go-carts decorated with Panda bears and “anime” characters—The Night Banquet is much more conventional in style and pacing.  The characters look like opera singers trying to move naturally and act which, as regular opera-goers know, is often like watching a water bufflo rollar skate .

Like The Silver River, The Night Banquet is inspired by Chinese legend—in this case, a story told in a venerated 10th-century inked-and-painted scroll that depicts a historical figure, Han Xizai, a poet, artist and respected statesman. When Li Yu, the third and last emperor of the Southern Tang dynasty, came to the throne in 947, he wanted to appoint Han his prime minister. Unable to criticize the emperor openly or to refuse a position if offered one, Han instead chooses to demonstrate that he is morally unfit to serve by holding wild, orgiastic revels night after night. 


Bright Sheng teaches at the University of Michigan.  His next opera is based on the life of Madame Mao, leader of the Gang of Four who led the Cultural Revolution.

Classical Grammy Winners

Previous Interviews/Profiles
Simon Rattle, Michael Gordon,Benjamin Lees, Scott Lindroth, David Felder, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Erkki-Sven Tüür, John Luther Adams, Brett Dean, Judith Lang Zaimont, Meyer Kupferman, Evan Chambers, Poul Ruders, Steven R. Gerber, Gloria Coates

Previous Articles/
Busoni The Visionary
The Composer of the Moment:  Mark-Anthony Turnage
Electronic Music
Voices: Henze at 75
Henze Meets Emenim
On Finding Kurtag
Charles Ruggles:  When Men Were Men
Ballet Mécanique
The Adams Chronicles



Pick of the Week

Requiem for Nietzsche
Composer:  Vaughn Holmboe
Da Capo [Naxos] - #8224207 
The most prominent Danish symphonist since Carl Nielsen and far more accessible.  He composed abut 400 works, and is 
finally getting the international recognition he deserves.


Sonates pour violin et piano
Composer: Gabriel Faure
Performer: Isabelle Faust, Florent Boffard
Harmonia Mundi Franc - #901741 
Isabelle Faust demonstrates that the sky-high standards she set with her award-winning Bartok recordings were no fluke.  An intelligent, mature musician at the peak of her powers, Faust makes even Faure's most romantic  lollipops sound important. 

Chrysalid Requiem
Composer: Toby Twining
Performer: Michael Steinberger, Toby Twining, et al.
Cantaloupe - #21007 
Few recent CDs have irritated me more.  Too long-winded by half, too self-important by three quarters and yet there are moments of  real  inventiveness.  Whatever happened to less is more?

Faure: Requiem 
Franck: Symphony in D Minor
Composers: Gabriel Faure, Cesar Franck Conductor: Philippe Herreweghe
Performer: Johannette Zomer, Stephan Genz Ensemble: Collegium Vocale, Orchestre des Champs Elysees
Harmonia Mundi Franc - #901771 
Note to Toby Twining:  This is what a masterpiece Requiem sounds like.  You can't own too many copies of Faure's Requiem but if you have only one, this one will do.

...and the lotos rose quietly, quietly
Composer:  Klaus Ib Jørgensen
Da Capo [Naxos] - #8224201 
We are not without sympathy for those misguided individuals who believe the accordian is a musical instument and to demonstrate how large-minded we are in this regard, we recommend these most inventive works for accordion – from solo and duo through chamber music to concerto – by the young Danish composer  Klaus Ib Jørgensen.  The music is highly complex and if you try you can even forget that the noise you're hearing is coming from an instrument that launched the career of Lawrence Welk.

Sacred & Profane
Composer: Britten, Elgar, Vaughn Williams, Delius, Stanford
Performers:   Rias Kammerchor, dir. Marcus Creed
Harmonia Mundi Franc - #901734
From Elgar’s Part Songs (1904) to one of Britten’s very last works, Sacred and Profane (1975), these are some of the most beautiful and best-loved pieces in the English a capella repertory, many of them rarely recorded. Berlin's RIAS-Kammerchor has not only played a decisive part in the revival of the musical life of Berlin but has established itself as the best a capella group currently performing.  Highly recommended.

Coronation Te Deum
Composer: William Walton
  Performer:  Layton, Polyphony, Wallace Collection
Hyperion - #67330 
Hyperion has gone riffling through some dusty corners of Sir William's music drawers to come up with a treasury of goodies--large and small-- from the ‘pomp and circumstance’ of Queen Elizabeth's coronation march to simple Christmas carols, all sung  majestically  by Polyphony conducted by Stephen Layton with the resplendent brass of THe Wallace Collection.


Deep Night, Deep Autumn
Composer/Performer:  Roger Kleier
Starkland 211
Roger Kleier, an experimental guitarist,
seduces listeners by mutating his guitar in various ways, ranging from the hallowed techniques of Jimi Hendrix and Captain Beefheart, through the extended techniques of avant-garde guitar-mangling, to the recent technological innovations of sampling, layering, and digital sound processing.
All of which can be pretty unpleasant unless the performer has musical sensitivity that goes beyond mere technique.  Fortunately, Kleier maintains a clear connection to the "real" world and the
music on this brooding, elegiac CD is grounded in associations that speak  eloquently to us all. 

L’Invitation au Voyage
Composer: Henri DuParc
MVCD 1148
Henri Duparc was something of a nut case who destroyed virtually everything he wrote, except for this remarkable  collection of sixteen songs, and a few orchestral works and piano pieces. The songs are as good as anything by Berlioz or Debussy or anyone else in the  history of French song. Mezzo soprano Catherine Robbin and baritone Gerald Finley, accompanied by Stephen Ralls, make a strong case for these overlooked masterpieces.

Pierrot lunaire • Dichterliebe 
Composers: Arnold Schoenberg,
Robert Schumann 
Performers: Christine Schäfer • Natascha Osterkorn • Ensemble Intercontemporain • Pierre Boulez 
 Two films by Oliver Herrman on DVD of musical masterpieces by Schoenberg and Schumann.  Schumann's song cycle Dichterliebe is performed in an intimate setting, placed in a low-lit night club in the center of Berlin, much as  it might have been done in the composer's day.  In Pierrot Lunaire,  Herrmann has created onscreen a surreal and grotesque modern-day metropolis through which Pierrot (Christine Schafer) wanders like a ghost, adrift in time and space. 


Choral Ikons
Composer: John Tavener
Conductor: Zdenek Kosler
Performer: The Choir
BBC - Opus Arte
The Choir sings Sir John Tavener's hauntingly beautiful unaccompanied choral music in what is said to be a  virtual reality restoration of the ancient Hagia Sophia church in Constantinople.   Unfortunately, the visual effects are not only unnecessary but somewhat amateurish and cheap looking, thus detracting a bit from the full richness of Tavener's mystic inspiration. 
 This DVD also features Manifestations of God - Sir John Tavener on his choral music and other filler material. 

Solamente Romanz
Composer/Performer: Darren Curtis Skanson
Light classical music for summer chilling, played expertly by Colorado resident Darren Curtis Skanson.  Skanson's original pieces have genuine warmth and charm. 

turquoise swans
Composer: Paul Barker
Performer: Sarah Leonard, soprano
A  remarkable collection of piano and voice songs written by UK composer Paul Barker and sung by virtuoso soprano Sarah Leonard (Michael Nyman’s ‘Prospero’s Books’ and ‘The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover’ soundtracks and numerous other 20th century operas). Some of the pieces were inspired by Silvia Plath’s writings, others by Aztec poetry--all are finely crafted miniatures of emotional insight and a perfect vehicle for Leonard’s extraordinary vocal talent. Also included are three arias from one of Barker’s many chamber operas--Dirty Tricks--about the famous British Airways/Virgin lawsuit.  Leonard played an air hostess in that one.  Don't know who played Richard Bransom.

SEQUENZA21/ is published weekly by Sequenza21/, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019
Publisher:  Duane Harper Grant  (212) 582-4153
Editor:    Jerry Bowles   (212) 582-3791
Contributing Editor: Deborah Kravetz 
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