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Poetry emotions

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

Mezzo Phoebe Haines thanking the audience. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"I believe there's a huge space between just being able to imitate the sound of something and then, on the other very far side of the spectrum, being able to speak the language fluently," she continues. "Between those two goal posts, there's a huge range of understanding that enables one to have a language without becoming a fluent speaker. For all of my colleagues onstage, when they sang in Chinese, they knew not just the pronunciation, but also the meaning of every single syllable, which allowed them to soak in the mood and the weight carried by each Chinese character."

With that being said, the mezzo herself, who also sings in Russian, German and Italian, has decided to take her engagement with the Chinese language one big step further. Since September 2019, she has been taking online Chinese courses with Beijing's renowned Tsinghua University, five days a week, four hours a day.

American composer Evan Mack

"It has given me a huge amount of purpose throughout the pandemic period," she says. It's a feeling shared on various degrees by her fellow artists of the show, among whom was the Spanish composer Fernando Buide, whose score was set for a poem dedicated to a parting friend, titled Send-Off.

"The poem, which not only celebrates friendship, but also evokes the farewell of those closest to our souls, resonated with me profoundly," says Buide, who wrote the music "right in the middle of the most severe lockdown in Spain".

"The precision and depth of the Chinese language is astounding. Being able to write melodies for this wonderful text connects with a universal need to convey our deepest inner emotions through the use of voice … when I composed, the sounds of my childhood ended up appearing under the surface of the music in subtle and unconscious ways," says Buide, who calls his music "reflective and hopeful".

And hope was palpable in the air, as the composers, vocalists and orchestra members met in New York during the rehearsals and onstage, many for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic.

"Remember I wrote this orchestral piece at a time when we could barely get six people into a room," says Bentz.

Now that travel to China has been gradually reopened, Mack is considering "taking one slice of something and going in-depth", which, in this case, could mean tracing the footsteps of Du Fu through mountains and rivers that might remind him of home in northern New York.

What would Li Bai have said if he were in the audience last Saturday?

"He would have stood up, raised a glass of wine to the moon and told everyone to sing along," says Haines.

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