vanessa-mae's music pt-3

VA N E S S A - M A E ' S - M U S I C S

- Part. III -

Files Upload : April 6, 2003

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Sample songs from The Classical Album 2 - China Girl (album)

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Vanessa-Mae was a 'wunderkind' before she became a superstar. The Director of the Royal College of Music described her as a 'true child prodigy, like Mozart and Mendelssohn'. At 12, she made her first outstanding recording, which already included one of her own compositions in the form of a cadenza for a Mozart violin concerto. Her second album included her own violin transcriptions of Heifetz, Kreisler and Paganini. Her third recording, an extraordinarily mature performance of the Tchaikovsky and Beethoven violin concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra, established her as the youngest ever to record both these concertos. Her fourth album, 'The Violin Player', released in 1995, was her first 'pop' album; for which she created her own 'techno-acoustic fusion' violin music, using both her 200-year-old Guadagnini and her electric violin. In autumn 1996, Vanessa-Mae released her fifth album, effectively her fourth classical album, to launch a new series for EMI. The phenomenal speed of sales of 'The Classical Album 1', which sold half a million within two weeks of release, made her the fastest-selling classical solo artiste.

Vanessa-Mae's unique and brilliant dual recording career is also reflected in her career as a 'live' concert artiste. She tours the world extensively, playing in vanues such as the Berlin Philharmonie, the Royal Albert Hall, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Salle Pleyel, the Salburg Festival Hall, the Auditorio Nacional in Maxico, Hampton Court Palace and at rock festivals performing her own 'techno-acoustic fusion' concerts to massive audiences. In the year 1996-7 alone, she performed in over 35 countries, touring numerous cities, many of them several times.

Varied highlights include her televised US debut at Time Square seen all over the world, performing the first ever concert on the frozen lake of St. Moritz as well as for a 100,000 capacity audience at the G7 Conference in France. Vanessa-Mae also set a record as the youngest ever to address and perform for the Oxford Union and is the only artiste ever to perform on the Trocadero in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

In the summer of 1997, the night of the handover (30 June 1997), Vanessa-Mae made international musical history as Hong Kong made political history with the premiere of her new work 'Happy Valley - The 1997 Re-unification Overture' at the Re-unification Concert at Happy Valley, the world famous race course. Her personal appearance was preceded by the spectacular Opening Parade around the race course, set to her music. Vanessa-Mae, British/Chinese (daughter of a Chinese mother and a British adoptive father), was the only foreign artiste invited to appear at this historic occasion and was the last foreign artiste to perform in Hong Kong under British administration.

Vanessa-Mae's brilliantly successful dual-faceted career is admirable not only for the degree of enviable success she has achieved in both arenas, but also for the confidence and individualistic philosophy with which this extraordinarily gifted young artiste has pursued her musical instincts.

At the time that she released her first pop album, she was chastised by a minority specialist press for turning her back on traditional classical repertoire and embarking on commercialised music. Vanessa-Mae has consistently scoffed at this criticism, maintaining that she will continue her classical career alongside her pop, even if her pop career were to gain recognition. She has also pointed out that the launch of a pop career for someone like her already commanding a prodigiously respectable classical career at such a young age was a brave risk. The number of failed pop acts every year speaks volumns.

Despite her caution, Vanessa-Mae's debut 'pop' album was a risk well taken. The album achieved multi-platinum status world-wide and is the most successful debut instrumental pop album ever. She became the youngest and only instrumental artiste ever nominated for Best Female Artiste in the BRIT awards.

At 18, Vanessa-Mae has already been honoured with many prestigious music awards. the most recent of which include the World Music Award for Best-Selling Classical Recording Artiste and the HMV Silver Clef Award for Top International Artiste.

Vanessa-Mae is due to release her second pop album of 'techno-acoustic fusion' violin music and simultaneously she also continues to develop the Classical Album series. After 'The Classical Album 1' of German music and 'China Girl - The Classical Album 2', her next release will be an Italian album.

< taken from "The Classical Album 2 - China Girl" CD's booklet >


The Classical Album 2 - China Girl : Contains

1. Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto
2. Violin Fantasy on Puccini's "Turandot"
3. Happy Valley - The 1997 Re-Unification Overture for Violin, Orchestra and Chorus (4.52 mb)

Total Timing : 0.00



I never felt that I was anything but British like my father, my grandmother, my school-friends, my cousins, until I became famous. I knew my mother to be Chinese, my maternal grandparents to be the same, but despite spending time in China as a child, studying both violin playing and Mandarin, I always felt like a British schoolgirl visiting and doing an extra-curricular course in China. The first time I was made to feel Chinese was when I made my Barbican debut with the visiting Singapore Symphony Orchestra. At the party afterwards, a big white Englishman, not unlike my father, took me aged 12 aside and said, 'You can't say you are British. You just live here. You were born in Singapore and you are Chinese.' For years now, the majority of the British press still refer to me as Chinese or Singaporean and, if they add a little more detail, a British resident.

I am too English to care. Most English people have a sanguine attitude to what other people think of them anyway - that is why we have so many eccentrics. However, as I have grown up and travelled all over the world, despite still knowing what I feel myself to be, I began to feel rather embarrassed at the little I had in common with the race that I am in the eyes of many others so obviously a part of. When my maternal grandfather died, I suddenly felt that I had lost a part of my life that I had taken so much for granted and had ignored because of the comfortable social and spritiual existence. I enjoy living in England amoung friends and family adopted since I was three. He was the only person on my mother's side of the family that had come from China and had really known it.

I had assumed that one day he would take us on a ready-made personalised tour of China and we would then have the pleasure of hearing his account of history on that side of my family. I almost waited for that opportunity as one would any other interesting educational holiday, rather than a project to seek out my roots.

When he died, I knew I had lost the chance. I will always now be the outsider looking in - always the British violinist, who looks and is partly Chinese, wanting politely to know and understand a bit more but never as much as he ot any other real Chinese would. I will never be able to find those roots or feel totally Chinese and while he was alive, he understood better than I did this handicap on my part.

I think that he was sad that I could not connect to my own Chineseness - but he understood and was not critical. He did not even understand how I could want to make a living from music. Chinese people of his background simply did not make a living from entertainment of any kind. We did not connect in many ways although we loved each other dearly. I was his only grandchild and it is for him that I make this record.

The 'Butterfly Lovers Concerto' was his favourite violin concerto. It is the most loved violin concerto among the world's Chinese population. It captures every essence of the Chinese love story it portrays and uses rhythms, melodies and harmonies totally synonymous with traditional music. Tchaikovsky, Dvorak and Sibelius were regarded as nationalistic composers in the West for their success in capturing the spirit of their countries' music. The composers of 'Butterfly' continue the trend.

'Turandot' - this exquisite opera best illustrates the gap between my grandfather's desired Chineseness for my and my true degree of limited Chineseness. Puccini managed to convey something exotic. Oriental, but while it is a great piece of music written around a Chinese theme, 'Turandot' certainly does not have the Chineseness of the 'Butterfly'. Even for this want of real Chineseness, I believe my grandfather would still love this music for its beauty and fot its desire to be a little Chinese - just like me.

I am deeply regretful that my grandfather did not hear 'Happy Valley - The 1997 Re-unification Overture'. It would have made him smile. For years after my grandfather left China, he refused to visit his home town while China was under a regime which he blamed for many deaths in his family and for the loss of his family land, homes and weath. Nothing could induce him to re-visit a home town which held too many sad reminders of the past. In the 1980's, the Chinese government returned part of his main family home to us. His initial reaction was one of pretended indifference, but over the next number of years he was gratified to see that gradual economic liberalisation began to make life easier and more hopeful for those members of his family who were still living in China. Two years before he died, he made his one and final return journey to his home town, returning with much warmer feelings about China. I wanted this piece of music to represent his mew hopes for his homeland. I did not want to ignore his memories, good and bad, and I have tried therefore to imagine his reaction to the Re-unification, which would no doubt be anxieties mixed with high hopes. Although the music itself blends Western culture with his Chinese heritage, I know that he would have been proud that I have tried to understand and to represent in my small way what a real Chinese person, like him, may harbour be way of hopes and dreams for peace and progress in this new era.

Vanessa-Mae : August 1997

< taken from "The Classical Album 2 - China Girl" CD's booklet >




Songs details

Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto

This violin concerto, commonly described as a dramatic programme concerto, is musically derived from Shaoshing opera, a style of opera from the Zhejiang province of China.

Adapting symphonic music to incorporate Chinese operatic melodies, harmonies, rhythms and sounds, the 'Butterfly Lovers Concerto' is based on an old Chinese legend about two young star-crossed lovers, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, which is also the name of the tale in Chinese folklore. Over the years, as the piece has become better known in the West, the English title 'Butterfly Lovers Concerto' was coined by reference to the happy mystical ending when the two lovers are united in after-death as butterflies.

The music traces the story very closely and is broadly in three sections, as in a three-act opera. The scene is set at the start in the middle of the 4th century in a little village in South China. The opening violin theme of lyrical love evokes a springtime in the countryside south of the Yang Tse River. Zhu Yingtai, daughter of a rich family, defies tradition: rebelling against feudal prejudices which only expected young men to be educated, Zhu leaves home and goes off to study in Hangzhou disguised as a young man. There she makes the acquaintance of Liang Shanbo, a fine young man from an impoverished family. The music suggests their first meeting with a tender cantabile duet by violin and cello. They spend three happy years together at work and at play, illustrated musically by a light-hearted rondo. Throughout all this time. Liang is completely oblivious to the fact that Zhu is in fact a young woman falling hopelessly in love with him. When the time comes for them to return to their respective villages, Zhu tries in vain, to let Liang know the truth. Alas all her hints are lost on him. The ending section of this first part of the concerto is at a slower tempo and conveys poignantly the sorrowful mood in which they leave each other.

The tragedy begins to unfold in the second act. When Zhu returns home, her father prepares to marry her off to a powerful noble's son. She protests vehemently and enrages her father. The row between father and daughter is represented by the conflict between the angry tutti theme and the anquished solo violin theme. It is a year before Liang discovers the truth, but by the time he rushes to her home to seek her hand in marriage, it is too late. Her father's will has prevailed and she is betrothed. The marking 'lacrimoso' begins the next section of music, which portrays the couple's meeting when together they voice their regrets. The plaintive cello and the tremulous violin engage in one of the most touching duets ever written.

It is not long before Liang succumbs and dies of a broken heart in his own home. The variations build towards a frenzy as they project the picture of a young man driven distraught by lovesickness and when he dies the violin almost screams in despair, representing Zhu's trauma upon hearing of his death. She rushes to the tomb, where she bitterly condemns the feudal morality that has thwarted their love. The heavens take pity, and with a dramatic crash at the climax of the tragedy, the tomb opens and she throws herself in to join her loved one in death.

The last act opens with an orchestral reprise of the love theme creating a nostalgic and mystical atmosphere. The suggestion of this being the end of the story is interrupted by a quiveringly delicate and beautiful return of the solo violin. It almost flutters then takes off in flight with the orchestra: it is clear that our young lovers have returned as butterflies united in an eternally happy dance amoung the flowers.

Violin Fantasy on Puccini's 'Turandot'

Paganini, Wieniawski, Sarasate, Heifetz were all violinists who wrote virtuoso showpieces based on famous melodies from popular operas. It has been said that the violin is the musical instrument that most resembles the human voice. It is therefore not surprising that these great violinists wanted to indulge themselves with their favourite operas. The common element among their different musical arrangements is the propensity to show off their individual specialist techniques.

Invariably, the melodies from operas will spin off into dazzling violinistic tricks which set awe-inspiring standards. It seemed inadequate merely to play as a singer would sing and it is interesting to consider if these violinists, too, felt the need in their time to qualify such 'populist' of 'commercial' performances to their peers by the addition of difficult and challenging violin solos as a method of defying any criticism. Many of these violin transcriptions remain firmly in the modern violinist's repertoire, not only because they feature some of the most glorious melodies from operas but also because the inventiveness in the writing of the violin parts continues to provide a stimulating challenge to all. Vanessa-Mae turns to this time-honoured violinists tradition for her transcription of melodies from Puccini's opera 'Turandot'.

The opera tells the story of a cruel Chinese princess whose beauty was such that many desired her hand in marriage. However, she insisted that to be successful, a suitor had to answer three riddles correctly. Failure to do so would result in execution. Many men died for this.

Prince Calaf, hero of the story, was the son of the exiled King of Tartar. Like many before him, he fell victim to Turandot's beauty and, against all advice, put himself forward for the test of the three riddles. He was successful but found that winning her hand thus was not enough to win her heart. She tried to renege on the arrangement, but although her father, the Enperor, insisted that she should honour her pledge, Prince Calaf very gallantly offered her one chance to avoid the marriage. On condition that she should guess his real name correctly by the morning, he would let her off her pledge and she would be entitled to execute him. The Princess immediately passed a decree to disallow sleep for all her subjects in order to maximise help for her to discover his name. This is the point in the opera when Calaf sings the famous 'Nessun dorma' (None shall sleep) proclaiming his vow of love that she would only ever learn his name from his own lips and that she would then be his bride. Even after much effort, Turandot was unable to discover Prince Calaf's true name and thus was Calaf's vow of love fulfilled.

The fantasy opens very dramatically as if witnessing an execution. Vanessa-Mae's arrangement then weaves in and out of some of te most beautiful melodies from the opera, using different violinistic ideas. The unexpected use of sordino (mute) in the middle section adds a quaint dilicate quality of even more Oriental charm than the original and makes magic of the music, as does her sensitive treatment of 'Nessun dorma' which builds to a triumphant declaration of love in the final moments.

The works was premiered to an ecstatic full house on 18 June 1997 at Hampton Court Palace by Vanessa-Mae herself performing with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Viktor Fedotov.

Happy Valley - The 1997 Re-unification Overture

This piece of music was premiered at what is probably the most significant musical and political event of this generations: The Re-unification of Hong Kong with China. In 1997, Vanessa-Mae began to outline the beginning of a piece of music that would be symbolic of this exciting event, the happening and the effects of which the world was awaiting. Being a British citizen and half Chinese by race, it was natural for Vanessa-Mae to be interested in the unusual juxtaposition of the cultures that had prevailed up to that point in Hong Kong. Vanessa-Mae also has various other strong connections to China, not least of all through her grandfather, who had come originally from China. She has also studied in China (with violin pedagogue Lin Yao-Ji at the Central Conservatory in Beijing) intermittently through her childhood while still at junior school in London.

During the course of writing and recording her second 'pop' album with distinquished producer and songwriter Andy Hill, she interested him in the Hong Kong project and together they worked on this piece of music. which would be effectively a mini-epic on Hong Kong. The work was selected as the official theme for the Re-unification Concert, which was broadcast from Hong Kong's famed Happy Valley Race Course to the mainland and all over the world.

The piece starts with a solo violin cadenza-like introduction performed in a traditional Westurn classical manner. The minor key sets an ominous tentative mood and Chinese voices are heard chanting quietly but quite distinctly a song along the lines of a phrase often attributed to the late Chinese leader Deng Hsiao Ping. Deng was the architect of the post re-unification concept of one country, two systems. He was convinced that under this system, 'The horses will keep on running, and the dancers - they will keep on dancing'. The growing rumble of the lower strings and rolling timpani create and almost threatening aural feel for the size of Hong Kong's new masters, China.

The historic and protesting solo violin grows in anxiety, reaching a climax with the voices, who will also not pipe down. At this point, the low rumbles give way to a galloping rhythm representing the unremitting path of progress and fate. Over this galloping accompaniment, the violin sings a slightly melancholic but lyrical theme, symbolic of Hong Kong's conciliatory approach as it anticipates its new future.

The music is broken by two episodes reflecting on the history of the Chinese. The first of this is an achingly beautiful melody which floats over an ethereal accompaniment on harp, reminiscent of a gracious gentle romance which is very much a part of China's ancient culture. The second episode is filled with the angst and difficulties faced by that vast country through many periods of turbulent history. As the music develops, the violin and the Chinese voices seem to build a stronger rapport and this growing confidence builds until an important moment when it is clear that the British lease has expired and Hong Kong has reverted to the Chinese. This moment is marked in the music by a new section with a full Chinese folk song sung over a military-style tattoo beaten out, not on military drums, but on Chinese traditioned drums including flower drums.

A significant key change to major and a violin part bursting with virtuosity which intermingles with the drum rhythms cement the positive aspects of the re-unification, and demonstrate an optimistic outlook for a prosperous future. While the music is full of military references, the galloping rhythms representing fate (and horse) are retained with vigour, the violin solos swing along joyfully with the flower drummers in a fiery jig in the spirit that 'The horse will keep on running, and the dancers - they will keep on dancing'.

< taken from "The Classical Album 2 - China Girl" CD's booklet >


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