When composer Zou Ye was approached by conductor Yu Long earlier this year to compose a piece on the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, Zou was excited but had nowhere to start.
Zou, 64, who lives in Beijing, is a Wuhan native. His hometown, capital of Hubei province, was the hardest-hit city in China during the outbreak and that made him anxious and depressed.
"Music seemed to be a good way to express my feelings for my hometown. But the feelings were very complicated and it took me some time to clear my head," he recalls.
The composer worked on the piece from February to September. Titled Dedicated to 2020, the symphony, featuring soprano Zhang Liping, baritone He Leiming－both Wuhan natives－and members of the Wuhan conservatory chorus, premiered during the opening concert of the Beijing Music Festival at Poly Theater in the capital on Saturday.
The Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra, Beijing Symphony Orchestra and the China Philharmonic Orchestra presented the world premiere of the piece under the baton of Zou.
"The piece is a milestone, which marks the year 2020. It feels like music has entered a new realm, with a new bond between artists and audiences. We would like to dedicate the new piece to people whose lives have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic," says Yu, who founded the Beijing Music Festival in 1998 and is the festival's chairman.
"The coronavirus may have silenced our symphony halls, but musicians are like soldiers, trying to encourage and inspire people with music."
Zou invited two other Wuhan natives to write the piece－composer Fang Shi, a classmate at the Wuhan Conservatory of Music from 1978 to 1982, and lyricist Tang Yuesheng.
"The piece has been developed from the view of Wuhan, a city which was hit hard earlier this year by the viral outbreak, to the whole world, which is still fighting the pandemic. The music grew naturally during the past seven months and has become what it is now," Zou says.
On Friday, the day before the opening concert in Beijing, the three musicians met in person for the first time since the outbreak.
Zou says he was inspired by stories of people in his native city. A memorable news item from earlier this year featured a coronavirus patient, 87, watching the sunset with his doctor in Wuhan.
The patient, Wang Xin, who was a violinist with the Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra, was admitted to Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University on Feb 11 and had been cared for by medical teams from Shanghai and Sichuan province that went to Hubei to support the province during the outbreak. A photo of Wang watching the sunset went viral, inspiring Zou.
The composer wrote a violin concerto as the seventh chapter in Dedicated to 2020.
"Writing the piece was an experience that we will never forget. It went beyond music and we witnessed a different kind of shared journey," says Fang.
Zhang Shouzhong, director of the Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra, says over 80 musicians from the orchestra joined the performance as they wanted to express gratitude to those who helped Wuhan and to express sorrow for those who lost their family members and friends.
"When the outbreak hit the city, our musicians became volunteers to help local communities," he says, adding that the first online concert by Wuhan Philharmonic on May 28 attracted over 9 million viewers. "Music has united us."