Gil Shaham violin
Lan Shui conductor
Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Any musical premiere is fraught with tension, but the showcase of student compositions in Shanghai on 27 May 1959 was especially so. Backstage at the Lyceum, the city’s first western-style theatre, the composition student Chen Gang was nervously pacing the floor. His co-creator of The Butterfly Lovers concerto, the violinist He Zhanhao, was playing in the student orchestra, his hands and mind at least occupied. The violin soloist Yu Lina took the stage, her hair cut so short that audiences would later find the player inextricable from the piece, whose narrative concerned a young girl passing herself off as a boy.
After the final notes came interminable silence – then applause, which soon fell intoa steady synchronized clapping that refused to let up until the conductor relented andsignalled the orchestra to perform the entire piece again. The next day, news of the
concerto’s success was all over the radio. A handful of young, unsophisticated studentsquickly became national celebrities. Five years later, nearly everyone associated with the piece was in prison.