Spring Festival Overture By Li Huanzhi
The Spring Festival Overture is a work of celebration, new beginnings and the propitiation of good luck. In fact, “spring festival” is the English translation for the Chinese term signifying the blowout more familiar to us as “Chinese New Year,” with its colorful parades and spectacular dragons snaking through the streets of Asian-American communities.
This is Part 1 of the Program Notes for November 12-14. You’ll be automatically linked to the next NoteStream at the end.
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Program Note Annotator
Michael Clive is a cultural reporter living in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. He is program annotator for Pacific Symphony and Louisiana Philharmonic, and editor-in-chief for The Santa Fe Opera.
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2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, 2 percussion, strings
Performance time: 5 minutes
A native of Hong Kong, Chinese composer Li Huanzhi earned his standing as one of the world’s most successful composers by dint of his music’s popularity throughout China.
His style infuses ancient and honored traditions of Chinese musical performance with the techniques of modern composition, harmonic theory and orchestration.
Li was admitted to Shanghai National Music School in 1936 to study harmonics and went to Yan’an to join the revolution in 1938, and studied composition and conducting from Xian Xinghai.
During his career Li created more than 400 musical works, many of which were of central importance in the history of modern Chinese music. In his later years, he continued to compose while suffering the effects of cancer and deafness—a poignant connection with the tradition of Western classical music through one of its most prominent composers, Ludwig van Beethoven.
Li was honored posthumously by the National Museum of China, a comprehensive museum that fosters Chinese historical and artistic values.
In a ceremony marking the donation of Li’s papers to the museum by his family, Li was praised for his achievements as a composer, conductor, music theorist and activist in China.
The bequest of Li’s family to the National Museum of China included 13 musical scores and manuscripts of historical and scholarly interest, including the full orchestral scores for the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China, “The East Is Red,” and tonight’s composition—the Spring Festival Overture. All are considered milestones of China’s modern cultural history.
Chang’e No. 1
As if its earthly popularity were not enough, the Spring Festival Overture has been heard—or at least could theoretically be heard — beyond the boundaries of our planet: It was chosen in 2007 as one 30 musical selections launched into space on China’s first lunar probe satellite, Chang’e No. 1. The satellite transmitted the overture back to earth from lunar orbit, some 236,000 miles away.
Image by NASA
What to Listen For
The Spring Festival Overture is a work of celebration, new beginnings and the propitiation of good luck.
In fact, “spring festival” is the English translation for the Chinese term signifying the blowout more familiar to us as “Chinese New Year,” with its colorful parades and spectacular dragons snaking through the streets of Asian-American communities. The actual date, which is based on the Chinese lunar calendar, occurs annually between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20 in our Gregorian system, but the bright energy we hear in Li’s composition outshines the singing of “Auld Lang Syne”.
The 15-day Spring Festival, which is observed by roughly one-third of the world’s population, is the occasion of serious merriment that is meant not only to be enjoyed, but also to better one’s chances of a happy life. Many Asian workers plan week-long vacations for the Spring Festival.
The festival is rich in symbolism meant to promote prosperity and good fortune, and listeners of Asian ancestry may well recognize Li’s musical references to centuries-old iconography of the celebration, including traditional dance melodies. The overture exists in versions scored exclusively for Western instruments as well as for Western orchestra plus traditional Chinese instruments.
Image © iStock
Spring Festival Overture
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