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Concert Honors Late Leader

The father of modern China, Deng Xiaoping, the late leader of the Chinese Communist Party was born 100 years ago and commemorating his birth is cause for celebration for the Chinese people.

Among the many events nationwide, the China Philharmonic Orchestra will give a special concert on the day at Poly Theatre in memory of the great political figure who was born on August 22, 1904.

This will also be the opening concert of the orchestra's 2004-2005 season.

"We usually start a season at the beginning weekend of September, but this year we open it two weeks earlier to mark the birthday of Deng Xiaoping," says Yu Long, artistic director of China Philharmonic Orchestra.

"As the leading orchestra in China, we have the responsibility to do that. Without the open policy he initiated, it is hard to say whether we would have such regular concert seasons or such booming performing arts," he adds.

Yu also reveals that Deng's relatives have selected the concert program, which includes Liszt's "Les Preludes," Richard Strauss' "A Hero's Life" and "Four Last Songs."

Liszt's "Les Preludes," the energetic, intense composition, represents a journey through life, which features the tentative beginnings, the onset of maturity and the exploration of old age.

"It is simply glorious music, and is definitely fitting for remembering Deng and his great, unique life," says Yu.

Originally written in 1848 as a prelude to a choral work called "Les Quatre Elemens," which was never published, Liszt (1811-1886) decided to publish the piece independently and retitled it "Les Preludes" after a poem by the French poet Lamartine (1790-1869).

The work's connection with the poem is tenuous at best, although one line from the poem -- "What is your life but a series of preludes to that unknown song of which death strikes the first solemn note?" -- gives what seems to be a reasonable "programme" for the piece.

Liszt's attachment of the work to Lamartine's poem occurs after its composition. The best connection is the use of pastoral and "military" passages which are closely linked.

Strauss' "Four Last Songs" and "Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life)" rank among the most haunting music ever written.

Although Strauss set himself as the "hero" in the score, "A Hero's Life," in this special commemorating concert is played as homage to Deng, the Chinese hero.

The music of Richard Strauss (1864-1949) is the natural progression of the Romantic movement -- expressive, emotional and complex.

And so to the "Four Last Songs," which was finished in September 1948, near the end of Strauss' life, a work that his publisher described as "a farewell of serene confidence."

The first three songs are set to texts by Hermann Hesse: "Spring," "September" and "Going to Sleep." The last song, "At Dusk" is to a poem by Joseph von Eichendorf.

Whether Strauss intended them to be performed as a set is arguable, but the common theme of peacefully nearing the end of one's life naturally groups them together.

It is no exaggeration to say that Strauss perfected the orchestral song with the "Four Last Songs," melodically and harmonically complex, rich in tonal colours, floating, serene and achingly beautiful.

The work constitutes the composer's own requiem -- a self-conscious farewell to existence, given loving expression by an idealized soprano voice and intended for performance after his death.

"The voice no longer simply carries the melody, but forms an integral part of the whole aural vista," says Yu.

Supreme soloist

And the voice featured at the special concert will be the well-known American soprano, Cheryl Studer.

"Studer is in opulent voice, mature, maternal and consoling. She makes Strauss' great vocal music sound, as it should, effortless, soaring, and sincere," comments Yu.

Studer began at a very young age studying the piano and the viola. At the age of 12, after listening to the album "La Callas & Paris," she decided that she wanted to be an opera singer and started voice lessons.

Later her promising talent caught Leonard Bernstein's attention when she was at the University of Tennessee and he offered her full scholarships to study for three consecutive summers at the Berkshire Music Centre at Tanglewood (1975 to 1977).

Studer debuted at Tanglewood in 1976 in Bach's "St Matthew Passion" with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa, who invited her for a series of concerts with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall during the 1978-1979 season.

In the 1980-1981 season, Studer auditioned for Wolfgang Sawallisch who hired her as a permanent member of the Bavarian State Opera, where she spent two consecutive seasons.

She sang her first big role, Violetta, as a guest artist at the Staatstheater Braunschweig in the spring of 1983. And she caught the world's attention for the first time at the 1985 Bayreuth Festival, when she sang Elisabeth in "Tannhauser" under Giuseppe Sinopoli.

Since then, she has sung in the most prestigious opera houses in the world: Opera de Paris, San Francisco Opera, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, La Scala, New York Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera.

Her repertoire reveals a soprano of exceptional versatility and encompasses more than 70 opera roles.

Studer also appears regularly as a concert soloist with the world's most famous orchestras: the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Boston Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra.

(China Daily August 18, 2004)


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