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Er Huang was commissioned by Carnegie Hall, New York where, in 2009, it received its world premiere with solo pianist Lang Lang and the Juilliard Orchestra under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas.
Chen wrote about the work, ‘Music has its own life – for me the germination of any musical work is like a tree growing out of the ground, and the eventual outcome of this life is entirely unknowable in advance.’ Commenting on the connection between Er Huang and its source of inspiration, the Er Huang tunes from the classical Peking Opera repertoire, he says that, ‘the way I applied musical elements from Peking Opera to my own writing was not really based on musicological studies. Rather, these tunes were an essential part of my childhood in Beijing, and always intertwined with memories of my family and the society I lived in at the time. Many people from my generation would be able to hum these tunes by heart. These days, however, these familiar tunes have been almost entirely forgotten, as the younger generation is much more occupied by western pop culture. This is why, when I quote these tunes, I often do so with a great sense of nostalgia. Traditional Chinese music has a very strong character, and the organic assimilation of something that I feel most akin to, over time, into my own musical language, has become an essential part of my artistic expression.’