Chinese legend makes its Denver premiere during lovers’ concerto
By Brenda Velasquez | Asian Avenue magazine
The Denver Philharmonic Orchestra celebrated this year’s Valentine’s Day with an intimate evening of music, drawing from three of the most famous tales of courtship revolving around the theme of young love. The concerto featured the Denver debut of The Butterfly Lovers, a renowned Chinese composition based on the tragic legend of an unconventional romance between a lady-in-disguise and her unsuspecting classmate. This centerpiece was accompanied by accomplished violinist, Linda Wang, a professor at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music.
“This piece is one of China’s most beloved works,” explained Wang. “A colorful, lush score that combines both Eastern and Western musical traditions. Through melody and musical drama, it tells the ancient tale of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, which can be compared to the tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet.”
The concertos’ music director Lawrence Golan discovered The Butterfly Lovers while conducting in Taiwan and brought the gem back to share with Denver society on this holiday night inside the Pillar of Fire Church downtown. Setting the mood for romance, staff greeted ladies with long-stemmed red, white and pink carnations at the entrance, inviting guests to pose for a souvenir portrait at a photo booth installed in a corner near the orchestra. Gentle cream lighting and ivory walls welcomed attendees into a heavenly chamber, a warm haven from the outside chill.
At half past seven, the modest-sized orchestra whisked the audience into the enchanted world of a classic French fairytale, familiar to Americans in its Disney form recounting the magical story of Sleeping Beauty. Starting off with a jolting bang the concerto fluctuated between high energy violins and booming drums. Splashing echoes crashed against the church’s high ceiling and thick columns before settling down into soothing waves and finally pooling into a euphoric waltz.
The concerto then transitioned into The Butterfly Lovers’ heartbreaking score, the voices of delicate flutes soaring through the air and the sweeping reverberations of the dreamlike harp generating a sense of nostalgia, recalling the doomed lovers who transform into butterflies upon their deaths and float off into the sky together, united in spirit.
Wang took her place before the audience and recited from memory the tale of woe, infusing the performance with a poignant surge of sorrow as the piece shifted from periods of tranquility to tension-filled intervals, Wang’s violin rising dangerously in pitch until safely and demurely fading away into a tinkling close.
The tragedy ensued in the third and final act comprising Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite No.2, sparking an ominous aura with its slow, suspenseful opening. The steady tempo continued throughout the piece, a span of trembling tension evoking an image of Juliet and her Romeo sneaking into each other’s arms under the cloak of night. The climax occurred near the end, signaling the demise of the rebellious sweethearts with a lengthy series of booms, gradually waning like a faltering heartbeat.
Clapping ardently for a thrilling performance, the audience rose to a standing ovation. Afterwards, a reception gave admirers an opportunity to meet the musicians and thank them for a musical journey commemorating the turmoil of young love.