New composition to honor the city's people will be performed in Beijing, Chen Nan reports.
In early 2020, Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province, was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. All public transportation and businesses were suspended, and residents were required to stay indoors to help cut transmission.
Zhang Shouzhong, president of the Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra, along with his colleagues, sprang into action. They worked as volunteers to help residents living in nearby neighborhoods by delivering supplies, food and carrying out temperature checks.
While doing his volunteer assignments every day from 7 am to 7 pm, Zhang considered the orchestra's first concert when the pandemic had passed.
He called his friend, composer and conductor Shao En one day in March. They agreed to create an original composition dedicated to the city of Wuhan and the people who fought against the pandemic.
Given travel restrictions and social distancing rules, the process of writing the piece became an experiment in online collaboration.
The four-movement musical composition, titled Reborn From the Fire, jointly composed by Guan Xia, Shao En, Yang Fan and Huang Kairan, was premiered by the Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Shao on Aug 15, at the Wuhan Qintai Concert Hall. Zhang notes that the four composers worked voluntarily.
To commemorate the first anniversary of Wuhan ending its 76-day lockdown on April 8, 2020, the Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra will perform Reborn From the Fire, under the baton of Shao at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing on Thursday, as the opening concert of the NCPA's annual event, the China Orchestra Festival. This monthlong event showcases and promotes the country's symphony orchestras and works by Chinese composers.
The four-movement piece tells the story of Wuhan enduring the pandemic early last year and its triumph over the crisis.
It will be the debut performance of the Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra at the China Orchestra Festival. Shao will also lead the orchestra to perform Ode to the Red Flag by Chinese composer Lyu Qiming and the prelude to composer Guan Xia's Symphony No 1, The Years of Burning Passion.
"During those hard days, we didn't know when our lives would go back to normal. We felt sad, disappointed and scared. But there was hope. The pandemic give us a chance to rethink humanity and we want to record those days with music," says Zhang. "It will be a memorable concert since the date, April 8, is significant for Wuhan and the people of the city."
For Shao, who lives in Beijing and works as the head of the composition department of the China Conservatory of Music, it was also his wish to compose such a piece. He soon contacted composer Guan Xia, the former president of the China National Symphony Orchestra, who invited two of his students, young Chinese composer Huang Kairan and Yang Fan, to work together.
"Guan Xia had already started composing a new piece when I called him last March. Like many people, he watched lots of news about the pandemic at home and was deeply touched by the people who made great contributions to the fight against it," recalls Shao. "We shared the mutual understanding about the piece."
"The fight against the pandemic keeps people together. We wanted to do something and, as musicians, composing and performing music are the best ways," adds Shao. Led by Guan, the composers revised the piece more than 20 times since "the style of the piece needs to be consistent".
According to Zhang, when Reborn from the Fire premiered in Wuhan, the concert was also livestreamed across major social media platforms. Medical workers in Wuhan were invited to enjoy the concert.
On Nov 3, the piece was staged again by the Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of its artistic director, Chinese-Singaporean conductor James P. Liu, near the historic landmark, the Yellow Crane Tower, in Wuhan. The composers have rearranged the piece by adding sounds of Chinese bianzhong (chime bells), which is one of the most famous symbols of Hubei province. A set of 65 bronze chime bells, which dates back 2,400 years to the time of Marquis Yi of the Zeng state, is housed in the Hubei Provincial Museum.
"It was very emotional for people in Wuhan to review the year of 2020. Music has the power to heal. When the melody of the piece, Reborn From the Fire, was played out by the orchestra, many of the audience were touched and even cried," says Zhang.
The Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in 1993, performed its first post-lockdown live concert on July 3, to a 30 percent capacity Wuhan Qintai Concert Hall. The Symphony No 3 in E-flat major (Op 55), also known as Hero, by Ludwig van Beethoven, was performed by the orchestra, as 2020 also marked the 250th anniversary of the German composer's birth.
During the days without live concerts, the orchestra kept in touch with its audience by offering online content, such as musicians performing from home. From May to June, the orchestra staged six online concerts with its first concert, which was held on May 28, attracting more than 90 million viewers.