For the first — what we might call the “Russian” — half of the program, the guest soloist will be sparkling pianist Yuja Wang, who is no stranger to the South Coast. In the single work that is the second — or “Chinese” — part of the program, the soloists will be sopranos Xiaoduo Chen and Meng Meng, plus Nan Wang, Jia Li and Xin Sun, virtuosos on Chinese instruments the erhu, the pipa and the guzheng, respectively.
The three works on the Shanghai’s program are the Prelude to Modest Mussorgsky’s opera Khovanshchina (known, when it is played in concert, as “Dawn on the Moscow River”), Sergei Rachmaninov’s beloved Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Opus 18 (with Wang); and Qigang Chen’s Iris dévoilée (“iris unveiled”), a concerto for full orchestra, singers and traditional Chinese instruments.
Iris dévoilée, which seeks to explore the infinite moods of a woman, is divided into nine sections: “Ingenius,” “Chaste,” “Libertine,” “Sensitive,” “Tender,” “Jealous,” “Melancholic,’ “Hysterical” and “Voluptuous.”
Chen was born in 1951, in Shanghai, and currently resides in France. I have not heard any of Chen’s music, but you have if you watched the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. His song, “You and Me,” was part of the ceremony, and it must have pleased somebody because it was downloaded 10 million times in the first week.
If, by the slimmest of chances, you have never heard Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto, I wouldn’t dream of spoiling one of the most memorable experiences in a music lover’s life by speaking slightingly of it. I prefer the Third myself, but even the great Robert Craft confessed to a “nostalgia for that utopia of hopeless melancholy which the Second Concerto induces in adolescents of all ages.”
Mussorgsky never heard Khovanshchina performed, as he died just as he was finishing it. It is set during the the Moscow Uprising of 1682, and its two over-arching themes are the struggle between progressive and reactionary political factions during the childhood of Peter the Great, and the disappearance of “old Muscovy” before Peter’s westernizing reforms.
In 1913, Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel collaborated on an orchestration for the first performance in Paris, and in 1958, Shostakovich also prepared a version. Still, for all the big names attached, the Prelude is likely to be all you ever hear of this opera. It is not clear from the program notes whether the Shanghai will employ the Rimsky-Korsakov orchestration, or the Shostakovich (only Stravinsky’s finale for the 1913 version has been published).
Tickets for the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra are available from the Granada box office at 1214 State St. or 805.899.2222, or click here to purchase tickets online.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at email@example.com.