Lead artist Jon Jang collaborated with composer/musician James Newton, poet/playwright Genny Lim, stage director Ellen Sebastian Chang, and Cal Performances to create a new evening-length staged vocal and instrumental work, When Sorrow Turns to Joy, a tribute to Paul Robeson and Mai Lanfang. The piece premiered as part of Cal Performances’ annual season in 1999-2000. Cal Performances not only co-commissioned (with the Walker Art Center) and presented this complex work, it developed related residency activities for the community.
When Sorrow Turns to Joy paid tribute to works made famous by Paul Robeson and Mei Lanfang—African American spirituals, work songs and freedom songs as well as Chinese sorrow songs and “arias” from such Beijing operas as Beauty Defies Tyranny and Drunken Beauty. Musical settings of both source materials and new compositions by Jon Jang and James Newton illustrated connections between African music, African American music and Chinese music.
Jon Jang has followed a path of creating music that expresses his cultural identity and musical aesthetics as an American born Chinese. His works chronicle and bring to life the Chinese immigration experience in the United States. At the time of his Creative work Fund grant, Jang had received commissions and major grants from Kronos Quartet (1995), Chanticleer (1999), The Library of Congress (1999), Rockefeller MAP Fund (1997, 2002), Creative Capital (2000-2003), Meet The Composer (1995), Meet The Composer New Residencies (2000-2002) and an NEA Jazz Composition Fellowship (1995).
Cal Performances, University of California, Berkeley, dates its origins from 1906, when Sarah Bernhardt appeared in the William Randolph Hearst Greek Theater to help rebuild morale after the earthquake and fire. Since that time the organization has presented a remarkable quality and quantity of its programming and the number of people it serves.