The 2nd Monday Concert Series, part of the College of Charleston School of the Arts, will feature violinist Lee-Chin Siow and pianist Paul Sánchez for a night of exciting chamber music on November 13. This “East meets West” themed program will feature the Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto by He Zhanzhao and Gang Chen, played using traditional Chinese techniques (Hwa Yin Chinese glissando), and movements from Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Strings in D minor by Felix Mendelssohn.
Siow and Sánchez will be joined on stage by 13 strings students from the College of Charleston Music Department. Last July, Siow accompanied four of these students who performed at a U.S. Consulate event in Wuhan, China that celebrated the 241st U.S. Independence Day. The event was coordinated for government officials, business people and educators from Central China to meet and learn about an aspect of U.S. culture — this year’s focus was on environmental living. In a letter to College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell, Consul General Joseph Zadozny wrote, “Your students’ skill and passion for their music deeply impacted the audience and moved me. I enjoy this kind of U.S.-China collaboration because it shows how building ties between our two great nations benefit our young people…”
The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto was written in 1958 while the composers were students at the Shanghai Conservatory. It premiered in 1959 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The music is based on an ancient Chinese legend of two star-crossed lovers — China’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
The piece is a one-movement programmatic violin concerto, with three sections that correspond to the three phases of the story — Falling in Love, Refusing to Marry, and Metamorphosis (the lovers resurrected as butterflies).
Musically the concerto is a synthesis of Eastern and Western traditions, although the melodies and overall style are adapted from various forms of traditional Chinese Opera, including Beijing Opera and Kun Qu opera (the oldest form of Chinese opera).
The solo violin is used with a technique that recalls the sound of various Chinese traditional instruments, in particular the inflexions and glissando pitches used by an erhu, an ethereal-sounding bowed string instrument. Adopting methods frequently used in Chinese Opera, such as Jin La Man Chang (fast bowing and slow singing), embellishes the music with unique Chinese features.
Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings provides the counterpoint to Butterfly Lovers in this “East meets West” program. Despite coming from two different cultural spectrums, the two works share common ground. Both were written by composers in their youth — the Double Concerto was written by Mendelssohn when he was 14.
Butterfly Lovers is a symphonic translation of the Chinese operatic tradition, while Mendelssohn also alludes to Mozart’s operas, with the violin singing as a soprano and the piano mimicking orchestral tremolo in the recitative section of the first movement.
Audiences may discover more surprising parallels in this juxtaposition of Asian and Western masterworks; joining Siow and Sánchez on stage will be an international cast of string students from the College of Charleston.
The performance on Monday, November 13 will take place at 7:30 p.m. in the Recital Hall, Simons Center for the Arts, 54 Saint Philip St. General admission is $15 and $10 for all students. Tickets can be purchased online at music.cofc.edu/concerts/2nd-Monday-series, by calling (843) 953-6315, or at the door.