Chinese American Symphony No. 1 pays tribute to the Chinese workers of the Central Pacific Railroad whose courage built the first transcontinental railroad in the United States. Composed by American-born, Chinese composer Jon Jang, the piece was developed with the Oakland East Bay Symphony and featured soloist Jiebing Chen on the ehru, a two-string Chinese violin. Chinese American Symphony was dedicated to Philip Choy, a longtime leader of the Chinese Historical Society of America.
Inspired by William Grant Still’s Afro American Symphony and especially Duke Ellington’s A Tone Parallel to Harlem, Jang sought to elevate Cantonese folk songs and opera into a symphonic form while honoring the unknown voices of Chinese laborers. Through his more than two decades of compositions, Jon Jang has been dedicated to bringing the Chinese immigrant experience to life, with a particular focus on Chinese-American history in San Francisco. Jang has received many commissions and major grants, and has recorded with Max Roach, James Newton, and David Murray. His ensembles have toured at major concert halls and music festivals in China, South Africa (1994), Europe, Canada, and the United States.
Led by its Artistic Director, Michael Morgan, the Oakland East Bay Symphony facilitated a collaborative development process that included everything from workshops with Jang, Morgan, and Chen to a master class for members of the Oakland-based Great Wall Chinese Youth Orchestra.
The Oakland East Bay Symphony aims to make classical music accessible, particularly to those individuals in the community who might otherwise never hear live symphonic music. Under the artistic leadership of Maestro Michael Morgan, the Symphony reaches over 75,000 children and adults annually.
Photo credit: Bob Hsiang