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Poetry emotions

By Zhao Xu | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-12 08:31

Tian Haojiang (center stage) takes a bow with performers at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall in New York. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Evocative language and inspirational music combine to create a concert that celebrates the emotive beauty of Tang Dynasty verse and the lyrical capabilities of Mandarin, Zhao Xu reports in New York.

"See you not! The Yellow River tumbling from the sky,

Rushing to the ocean by and by!

See you not! Shining mirror mourning white tufts,

Black silk at dawn, snow-white at dusk!"

The lines, passionate and poignant with stirring reflections on the forceful and the fickle, are from Li Bai, an eighth-century Chinese poet whose literary brilliance and inventiveness has often been deemed unsurpassable.

Fueled by unbridled imagination which was in turn watered by the huge amount of wine he apparently imbibed, often in the company of the moon, Li's virile poems have come to epitomize his time — the Tang Dynasty (618-907), an extended period in Chinese history admired for its open society that embraced the rest of the world. (Think about the Sogdian merchants who traveled the ancient Silk Road to the Tang capital, where everything they brought — from spices, gemstones and silverware to their own song and dance — became reasons for celebration.)

Thus, it came as no surprise that this particular poem from Li Bai, tellingly titled Drink to Me, was the piece to open a concert that saw 15 soloists and 15 chorus members from around the world lending their voices — trained in the Western tradition of classical singing — to the ageless lines of 16 ancient Chinese poems, all from the Tang Dynasty. And they did so at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall in New York, against a musical backdrop rolled out by the Philadelphia Orchestra, whose historic 1973 tour of China has made it an emblem of cross-cultural exchange between the two countries.

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