Screen readers: Two navigational links to follow.Skip to site navigation.Skip to page content.
The University of Iowa News Services
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 9, 2008

Photo: The erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument

UI Symphony Orchestra features Chinese music and musicians Oct. 21

The University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra (UISO) will devote its second concert of the 2008-09 season to a program of music by Chinese composers at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21, in the Main Auditorium of Iowa City West High School.

The concert will be under the direction of Woon Wen Kin, the founding president and music director of the Penang Symphony Society in Malaysia. Guest soloists for the program will be two ethnically Chinese musicians from Maylasia, both of whom have been trained in traditional Chinese musical styles: Goh Suk Liang, performing on the erhu -- a traditional Chinese bowed stringed instrument -- and soprano Yoon How Wan.

The concert, which is presented with the support of the UI Center for Asian and Pacific Studies and International Programs, will be free and open to the public.

In addition to the concert, the visiting musicians will present a lecture/demonstration on traditional and contemporary Chinese music at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17, in the International Programs Commons, Room 1117 of the University Capitol Center.

The concert is the outcome of research into Chinese-Western music by William LaRue Jones, director of orchestral activities in the UI School of Music and the director of the UISO. The centerpiece of the concert, "The Butterfly Lovers Concerto" for the traditional Chinese erhu and western orchestra, was the subject of Jones' research during a sabbatical in China last year.

"The focus of the Oct. 21 concert will be on some of the influences of the western musical culture within contemporary Chinese music," Jones said. "One surprising effect of the startling changes in China during the last two decades is the emergence of a new international orchestra genre. Chinese composers, such as the internationally recognized Tan Dun and Bright Sheng, have garnered considerable acclaim around the world through numerous premieres of works that draw simultaneously on Chinese and western musical traditions."

The composers on the Oct. 21 concert, while not as well known as Tan Dun and Bright Sheng, are part of this same development. The program for the concert will be:

--"Spring Festival Overture" by Li Huan Zhi.

--"The Butterfly Lovers," concerto for erhu and orchestra, composed jointly by He Zhanhao and Chen Gang.

--Two songs representing regions of mainland China, arranged for by Woon for soprano and orchestra: "The Song of the Tibetian Highlands" by Chan Chien Ye and "The Song of the Yangtze River" by Wang Sze Kwang.

--"Second Xinkiang Dance" by Ting Sang.

--"Tribal Dance of the Yao" by Mao Yuen and Liu Tie Shan.

Program notes for the concert point out that one form of interaction between traditional Chinese music and the West has been works for orchestra with Chinese solo instruments. These works, sometimes known as "fusion concertos," exist in a variety of types. In addition to the new sounds that result from the pairing of a Chinese solo instrument with the western ensemble, composers are able to experiment with other combinations of musical elements from the two traditions being represented.

One technique, for example, is to apply the principles of western counterpoint to Chinese folk music. Here, the Chinese solo instrument and western orchestra alternate in playing the folk tune and newly composed countermelody, sometimes contending with each other and sometimes communing. Different combinations may exist within a single work as composers seek musical metaphors for the larger interaction between Chinese and western societies.

Composed in 1958, "The Butterfly Lovers" is one of the most famous pieces in China and perhaps the most famous example of Chinese-western fusion concertos. It is based on a story of forbidden love between two young people that may have originated as early as 200 A.D.

In the story, Ying Tai disguises herself as a boy in order to defy the custom of the time and get an education. After she returns home, her former schoolmate Shan Bo arrives for a visit only to discover that Ying Tai is a woman. The two fall in love, but when Shan Bo asks Ying Tai's parents for her hand in marriage he discovers that they had already promised her to another.

Heartbroken, Shan Bo dies a short time later. As Ying Tai travels by boat to her new family, a storm arises and the boat stops near Shan Bo's tomb. Ying Tai begs the grave to open, and when it does she leaps in to join her true love. The earth closes behind her, and shortly thereafter a pair of beautiful butterflies emerges, symbolizing the union of their eternal love.

Like "Romeo and Juliet," the poignant story of "The Butterfly Lovers" has been the inspiration for numerous literary and musical monuments to the purity and innocence of young love.

Woon Wen Kin is a prolific performer, educator and promoter of music and the most experienced symphony orchestra conductor in Malaysia. Following studies at Trinity College of Music in London, Woon was appointed principal conductor of the First ASEAN Youth Music Workshop hosted by Malaysia in 1980 and became the founding president of the Penang Symphony Society in 1981.

A more extensive biography is available online at

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Visit the UI School of Music Web site at

For UI arts information and calendar updates visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to and click the link "Join or Leave ACR News," then follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Peter Alexander, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0072 (office) 319-541-2846 (cell),