When I received the commission from the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group for a concerto for Sheng and Large Ensemble, the first thing that emerged in my mind was the scenery of Seoul, my hometown. The image of the sole Asian traditional instrument surrounded by Western instruments brought back my memory of the city which has been developed and westernised rapidly since the 1970s, yet still hides old palaces and traditional houses in the forest of skyscrapers.

The Sheng concerto, Anecdote is a self-portrait of my twenties, the wandering years when I lived in the strange city.

The piece consists of three different movements contrasting each other in terms of characters and lengths.

The first movement We Are All Nocturnal Creatures is a nocturne as the title implies. Around dawn, on my way back home after guzzling booze, the shaking scenery of the city seen through the window of the bus used to send me into a delusional state in which the city became me, and I became the city. The movement begins with a Sheng solo and while being developed the boundary between the instrument and the ensemble becomes vague gradually. Finally, they become a large Sheng altogether.

The second movement Neon Nightsrefer to the glittering neon signs in the city. The movement is a colourful capriccio and long cadenza for Sheng and ensemble.

The last movement The Lost Songderives from the ancestral ritual music in Korea which was written and performed for souls that passed away. The movement begins with three different layers, the repeating rhythms in drums, the sustained chords in Sheng and strings and the dark melodies in Contrabassoon and double bass. As in the first movement, the boundary between three layers gradually collapses and the music becomes heterophonic, and finally dissipates. The movement is nostalgia and farewell for my twenties.


© Donghoon Shin

Sheng soloist Wu Wei, one of the world's best players of the Chinese instrument, will be performing the world premiere of Donghoon Shin's Sheng Concerto in a glimmering concert embracing music dissolving borders on 21 March

Book your place

Donghoon Shin's residence with BCMG as Apprentice Composer in Residence is part of the Embedded programme from Sound and Music, the national charity for new music, in collaboration with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.