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The Story of the Cantata that Led to the Famous Yellow River Piano Concerto

The Yellow River Piano Concerto, performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra during its historic trip to China in 1973, has become a part of the Western symphonic repertoire since its premiere in 1969 during China's Cultural Revolution. What is less well known in this country is the story of the cantata that led to the concerto. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more.

Jack Moore on the podium.

The Yellow River Cantata will be performed by a 300-member Choir and the Ambler Symphony Orchestra in a concert conducted by Wanjun Qiao and WRTI's Jack Moore, on Saturday October 3, 2015, at the Kimmel Center.  Information here.

Radio script: 

MUSIC: Yellow River Concerto

Susan Lewis: The Yellow River Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, including some Chinese instruments, was composed in the late 1960s during China’s Cultural Revolution.  It tells the story of the Yellow River, also known as the mother river of China.

But before the concerto, there was a cantata. And before that, a poem, written in the midst of China’s struggle with Japan in the late 1930s. After the Chinese City of Whan fell to the Japanese, military leader and poet Guang Weiran led troops across the Yellow River.

He was so inspired by the beauty and power of the river, and of songs of those working on it, he wrote a poem from his hospital bed, which composer Xian Xinghai used as lyrics for a cantata, his work - legend has it - done in hiding.

Watch this video of a performance of the Yellow River Cantata:

The patriotic story - urging the Chinese to resist invaders and defend their country - spread through China as a call to arms, with the Yellow River as a symbol of heroism and cultural pride.  

Today, the eight-movement cantata is well known throughout China, but not often performed in the U.S.

MUSIC:  Yellow River Cantata

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.