What message does H’un (Lacerations): In Memoriam 1966-1976, which you composed in memory of the Cultural Revolution in China, have for us today? Bright Sheng

Bright Sheng
Photo by Alex Cao

Ever since I was a composer, I had wanted to write an orchestra work expressing my direct feelings and recollections about the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). This was because I grew up during that calamitous decade. So when I received my first orchestral commission in this country, I kept my own promise.

LISTEN to an excerpt from Bright Sheng’s H’un (Lacerations): In Memoriam 1966-1976

New York Chamber Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwartz
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Having said that, I must say that the work is not a recreation of the events or re-telling a story of the Cultural Revolution. Rather, it is an articulation of what it was like to live through the catastrophic period as a young child. I have two stories to tell which I hope can demonstrate my point.

My mother, an engineer who had suffered a great deal during the Cultural Revolution and has been living in the United States for over two decades now, told me, after she first heard H’un performed in New York, that the work reminded her of all the pain and anguish she experienced during the Cultural Revolution but had since forgotten.

When H’un was performed by the New York Chamber Symphony at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, an old Jewish lady said to me afterwards: “If you only change the title to the Holocaust, the work would be equally appropriate.”

To me, these are the best compliments a composer can ever receive.