Sneak Peek into 21CM Artist in Residence: Bright Sheng

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Renowned pianist, composer, and teacher, Bright Sheng, will be on campus all week working with DePauw ensembles and rehearsing his original music, as this year’s 21st Century Musician guest artist.

Sheng writes music reminiscent of both the Western and Chinese traditions, and his compositions are performed and commissioned by top orchestras across the world. Originally born in Shanghai, Sheng moved to New York in 1982 to continue studying composition. Eventually Sheng met legendary composer, Leonard Bernstein, who would become his mentor.

Dr. Eliza Brown, music professor at DePauw, studied composition with Sheng in undergrad. After witnessing his rehearsals throughout the week, Brown was happy to see Sheng’s energy working with students.

“He gets a lot done in rehearsals in a short space of time and he has a lot of different ways of conveying that, whether verbal or through motion…there’s just a wealth of musical and rehearsal technique and ways of thinking about performing,” said Brown.

While Sheng certainly draws on both Western and Chinese tradition in his music, his compositions are not simply tied to his musical influences.

“I think his voice is really varied. He’s capable of a really wide range of expression in his music, and within one piece” said Brown.

Clarinetist and Member of the DePauw University Band, Elena Collins commented on her experience performing Sheng’s compositions.

“I love listening to the pieces and [I] think he is a really great composer,” Collins said. “Playing the pieces is very difficult for us, but it’s really fun.”

Euphonium player, Philip Lehr, expressed a similar experience with Sheng’s music.

“Playing these pieces has provided me many challenges that have forced me to look outside the box in many ways while playing my instrument,” Lehr said. “While it has been challenging at certain points, I think it has been fun to try new music.”

Along with the University Band, the DePauw University Orchestra and Chorus have rehearsed Sheng’s compositions for the upcoming performance as well.

“Playing Sheng’s music has been a challenge for sure,” trumpet player, Katie Swenson said.  “It has really pushed the boundaries of what I thought I could play, but the work we’ve put into the music has definitely paid off. Sitting in rehearsal with the composer has made me realize that even though the music is different, it is incredibly rewarding seeing him interact with the orchestra.”

Violinist Brandon Vazquez also enjoyed rehearsing with Sheng.

“It was a new experience. I’ve never had a composer come in and modify the music on the spot, it’s kind of fun” said Vazquez.

The DePauw University Band, Orchestra and Chorus will be performing Sheng’s music Friday, March 1 at 7:30pm in Kresge. Sheng will also conduct a chamber performance on Thursday, February 28th at 7:30pm in Thompson recital hall.

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