Roberta on the Arts

Contact Roberta
Jazz and Cabaret Corner
On Location with Roberta
In the Galleries: Artists and Photographers
Backstage with the Playwrights and Filmmakers
Classical and Cultural Connections
New CDs
Arts and Education
Onstage with the Dancers
Offstage with the Dancers
Upcoming Events
Special Events
Memorable Misadventures
Our Sponsors

An Interview with Bright Sheng
- Offstage with the Dancers

Check out our Sponsors
Check out our Sponsors

By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 13, 2002
Originally Published on

Bright Sheng (See Bio) is the Composer and Conductor of Chi-Lin, a Ballet choreographed by Helgi Tomasson, Artistic Director of the San Francisco Ballet, and presented in April, 2002, in San Francisco. The music for this ballet is drawn from Mr. Sheng's Flute Moon, The Stream Flows, and "Fanfare", from China Dreams. Bright Sheng is a world-renowned classical composer, who weaves his heritage of China into his vast classical music expertise. Mr. Sheng began piano study at the age of four with his mother in Shanghai, China. Mr. Sheng teaches at the University of Michigan and has won three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. He holds an MA from Queens College and a DMA from Columbia University. Bright Sheng and is the subject of this inside perspective.

October 12, 2002, with Bright Sheng by phone in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Bright Sheng
Photos courtesy of Moises Saman/G. Schirmer, inc.

REZ - What was your entrée to the San Francisco Ballet composition and conducting opportunity?

BS - I was so thrilled to see the Chaconne, with a sense of choreography rooted in tradition. In it I sensed my view of composition.

REZ - Do you have experience with Ballet?

BS - I was a pianist as a teen in a ballet class. But, choreography was a new territory for me. In music composition, I have a strong feeling that you cannot sustain a piece if you start to repeat yourself. Trends come and go in music. The Chaconne is very different.

REZ - Tell me about Chi-Lin.

BS - I had a little bit of input in the choreography. Helgi (Tomasson) wanted to send me a compilation of his music. He told me over the phone, what his thoughts were. Last Thanksgiving, I went to San Francisco to see Helgi. Dance makes the music shine, when it is done right. This session (of the SF ballet dancing to Mr. Sheng's music) was done in a studio. On my first trip I also met Sandra (Woodall) the costume designer. We all met for two days. Then Helgi invited me to return. At first Neal (Stulberg) conducted, and then I conducted in the Premiere. In San Francisco, the (orchestra) pit was bigger (than City Center), so we could have a larger orchestra with more strings and more woodwinds.

Helgi is a terrific Choreographer. I admire his work. His taste and choice of repertoire are excellent. It's not easy to have variety. I love the combination of percussion with the sets and lighting. It's a nice touch. Helgi used three different pieces for this ballet, which is very difficult. I didn't see this at first. I'm so happy for Helgi. The last time the company was here was four years ago, and now it's (City Center) sold out.

REZ - What are you now working on that's new?

BS - I'm working on a full-length opera about Madame Mao, which will premiere in Santa Fe next July. It's a Chinese Opera with some dancing. In November, Neal will conduct Chi-Lin with the San Francisco ballet at the Kennedy Center. (Mr. Sheng is also working on a commissioned quadruple concerto for the New York Philharmonic celebrating the twentieth debut anniversary of Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax, who will appear as two of the soloists at the premiere in 2003.)


For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at