Fifty years ago, two Shanghai Conservatory of Music students—Gang Chen and Zhan-Hao—wrote and premiered a unique work fusing traditional Chinese music with Western classical music called “The Butterfly Lovers” that initially was a sensation and became widely performed. Five years later as a prologue to the Cultural Revolution, the work was declared “decadent” by the Communist Party, performances were banned and its composers were sent off to prison. After the death of Mao Tse-Tung in 1976 and the end of the Cultural Revolution, the work began to reappear and has been the signature piece of East meets West both within China and abroad ever since. It is this piece—with Chicago erhu soloist Betti Xiang—that will take the spotlight in the Chicago Sinfonietta’s season-opening concert appropriately called “West Meets East” and which will also feature the Chicago premiere of Chinese-Canadian composer An-Lun Huang’s “Saibei” Dance from his “Saibei” Suite, a 1975 piece that spotlights the percussive woodwind style typical of the Saibei region of northwest China. Also on the program: Ravel’s “Ma Mère l’Oye” (Mother Goose) Suite, which includes Ravel’s attempt to emulate a Javenese Gamelan ensemble style in “The Empress of the Pagodas,” and the Rachmaninov First Piano Concerto with Chicago pianist Jeremy Jordan. Sinfonietta founder and music director Paul Freeman, who is stepping down this season, will share the podium with Atlanta Symphony Orchestra assistant conductor Mei-Ann Chen. (Dennis Polkow)
October 4, Dominican University’s Lund Auditorium, 7900 W. Dvision, River Forest, 2:30pm. And October 5, Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, (312)236-3681, 7:30pm.
Dennis Polkow is an award-winning veteran journalist, critic, author, broadcaster and educator. He made his stage debut at age five, was a child art prodigy and began playing keyboards in clubs at the age of fourteen. He holds degrees in music theory, composition, religious studies and philosophy from DePaul University in Chicago. Polkow spent his early years performing and recording in rock and jazz bands while concertizing as a classical pianist, organist and harpsichordist and composing, arranging and producing for other artists. As a scholar, Polkow has published and lectured extensively and taught at several colleges and universities in various departments. As an actor, narrator and consultant, Polkow has been involved with numerous films, plays, broadcasts and documentaries. As a journalist, Polkow helped co-create the experiential Chicago Musicale and Spotlight, the award-winning tabloid arts and entertainment section of the Press Publications chain of newspapers, which he later edited. He also created and ran the nationally recognized journalism program at Oakton College and was faculty advisor to its award-winning student newspaper; many former students went on to major media careers, including Channel Awesome’s the Nostalgia Critic. Polkow’s research, interviews, features, reviews and commentaries have appeared across national and international media and he has corresponded from the Middle East, Asia and Africa for the Chicago Tribune. Contact: email@example.com