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AN-LUN HUANG [黄安伦] (b.1949)

Saibei Dance [塞北舞曲] from “Saibei Suite No.2” (1975)

Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai


In the earlier 70s, composer An-Lun Huang composed two suites based on folk music from the Saibei region in China. The second of the suite from 1975, including the Saibei Dance, is a revered classic of Chinese orchestral repertoire. 


Both China and the State of Hawaiʻi experienced the full force of mother nature. Colossal rainfall from Typhoon Nina hit the Henan province of China in August, overwhelming 62 dams, including the catastrophic collapse of the Banqiao Dam. The storm is estimated to have taken up to 240,000 lives and destroyed 7 million homes. Three months later, on November 29, a magnitude 7.4 earthquake shook the Hawaiian Islands. The quake generated a tsunami detected across the Pacific Rim nations.



Born in China in 1949, An-Lun Huang comes from a musical dynasty. Huang writes, "I began my musical education with my parents when I was five: my father, Feilih Huang, attended Yale University, where he was a pupil of Paul Hindemith, from 1948, and graduated in 1953; he founded the first conducting department of the Central Conservatory of Music in Tianjin in 1956 [including the Beijing Symphony]. 


I became a piano student at the Primary and Middle Schools attached to the Central Conservatory of Music from 1956 until 1968. Then, like most young China at that time, I lost all chance of an education because of the Maoist Cultural Revolution (1966-76), and in 1969, along with my classmates, I was sent to the countryside as a laborer. For those ten years, all universities were shut down, and their students sent out into the country; many teachers were jailed, and some even killed. In 1971, I finally did obtain permission to have a piano in my rural exile. It was an invaluable opportunity to restart my musical life, and I continued my education on my own.


Once the cultural Revelation had blown over, the success of a number of compositions led to my appointment as composer-in-residence of the Central Opera House of China in 1976. I then came to the West to complete my musical education." Like his father, Huang completed his education at Yale University in 1984, studying with Jacob Druckman and Martin Bresnick. Since then, he has made his living as a freelance composer in Toronto and serves as the composer-in-residence of the Shenzen Symphony Orchestra.


Huang's compositions are widely performed around the globe. With more than 40 symphonic compositions to date, his grand opera Yue Fei received critical acclaim as "an excellent model for Chinese opera today." More than 20 of his works are included in China's official music publishing project, National Musical 100 Years.



Huang's most famous work, the Saibei Dance, premiered with the German Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in the 80s. The folk music of Saibei, a region North of the Great Wall of China (Hebei, Shanxi, and Inner Mongolia), is unique in its large leaping melodic lines (heard in the opening flute). The original tune combines Western musical elements with wind and percussion styles characteristic of Northern West China. The four-minute score calls for two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings. 

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