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Never Far Away

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Audio CD, August 25, 2009
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: San Diego Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Jahja Ling
  • Composer: Bright Sheng
  • Audio CD (August 25, 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Telarc
  • ASIN: B002HWUU2M
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #373,088 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. Shanghai Overture (World Premiere Recording)
2. Never Far Away For Harp And Orchestra: I. Moonlight Shadows (World Premiere Recording)
3. Never Far Away For Harp And Orchestra: II. The Drunken Fisher (World Premiere Recording)
4. Never Far Away For Harp And Orchestra: III. Doctored Pentatonics (World Premiere Recording)
5. The Nightingale And The Rose (World Premiere Recording)
6. Tibetan Love Song And Swing: I. Tibetan Love Song (World Premiere Recording)
7. Tibetan Love Song And Swing: II. Tibetan Swing (World Premiere Recording)

Editorial Reviews

Harpist Yolanda Kondonassis breaks new ground with an exciting co-commission by The San Diego Symphony, The Dallas Symphony, The Grand Rapids Symphony and Oberlin Conservatory, written by Chinese composer Bright Sheng. Never Far Away features four pieces by Sheng: "Shanghai Overture," the short ballet "The Nightingale and the Rose," which was inspired by a short story by Oscar Wilde, "Tibetan Love Song and Swing," and the title piece "Never Far Away."

Not resting on the usual "romantic" harp repertoire, Kondonassis worked closely with Sheng to highlight the power and potential of the harp. "I first spoke with Bright about this project almost five years ago," she recalls. "I was familiar with his music and felt that his use of color, rhythm, and Asian-inspired sonorities would translate well on the harp. We met in person a short time later and had the first of what turned out to be a series of long and intense working sessions on the concerto. We share a fondness for powerful music and enjoyed unearthing new sounds and textures on an instrument that so often gets stereotyped before a composer even sets the first note on the page."

These intense sessions led to a tour de force for harp and the centerpiece of this recording, "Never Far Away." The piece is a wonderful concerto that stretches the instrument - at times blending such techniques as the "prepared harp" effect in the third movement (achieved by threading strips of thick paper through the entire range of strings) and the "pedal glissando" effect in the second movement, which uses the natural metallic sound that is made when sliding the pedal from one position to the next while the strings are still ringing. These techniques clearly demonstrate Kondonassis' mastery of the instrument while also showcasing the harp in a way that is in distinct contrast to the "new-age" identity that so many people have attached to it in recent decades.

"Never Far Away" has been performed by The San Diego Symphony, The Dallas Symphony and The Grand Rapids Symphony at this point and has received high praise. The Dallas Morning News praised Kondonassis as "a brilliant and expressive player" and described the work as one that encompasses everything from "wide-screen luxury" to "Asian-flavored boogie-woogie." "Kondonassis was called upon to use her extraordinary technique and powerful tone," said the Grand Rapids Press. "But not just any harpist would pull this off so elegantly." Sheng's three-movement work is inspired by the idea that, if your native culture is still the inspiration for your work, you are never far away from home.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Erik North on May 28, 2010
Format: Audio CD
Bright Sheng's status as arguably the best-known contemporary composer to come out of China is made quite clear on this impressive recording made by the great American harpist Yolanda Kondonassis. Ms. Kondonassis ably brings to life the composer's "Never Far Away", in essence a traditional three-movement concerto for harp and orchestra that is both strikingly ancient and modern, reflecting its composer's homeland's history and integrating a totally contemporary sensibility. With three other of Mr. Sheng's compositions--"Shanghai Overture"; "The Nightingale And The Rose" (a ballet score inspired by Oscar Wilde); and "Tibetan Love Song And Swing"--we get a great melding of Chinese and Western cultures.

Equally significant (and one must give credit to Telarc for doing it), this recording also shines a spotlight on a rather overlooked American orchestra, namely the San Diego Symphony, which has managed to stage a significant comeback as of late after it came close to bankruptcy not too many years ago. Under the direction of their current music director Jahja Ling, who had also served as an assistant to Christoph von Dohnanyi at the Cleveland Orchestra, the San Diego Symphony has shown itself to be a resilient orchestra in all styles of music, from Classical to Contemporary. Bringing contemporary works to classical audiences who might otherwise want only well-established warhorses is never easy, especially for US orchestras, but Mr. Ling, Ms. Kondonassis, and the San Diego Symphony have worked wonders on this impressive recording. One hopes to hear more of this kind of excellence in the not too distant future.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By SD Dolfan on August 25, 2009
Format: Audio CD
This amazing piece of work is a wonderful, contemporary, Asian-themed collection of emotions. Bright Sheng's compositions are given inspiring performances by Ms. Kondonassis, under the direction of Jahja Ling and superb playing by the San Diego Symphony. Each listening is a new experience.
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