Some German Music (in the Original Chinese)

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Byline: Paul Denison The Register-Guard

A German composer, several eighth century Chinese poets, a Hong Kong businessman and an American conductor-composer all had a hand in a program that the Oregon Mozart Players will present twice next weekend.

The first half will be devoted to Mozart's Symphony No. 35 (``Haffner''), but that's not unusual and not the story.

The story is the first-ever performance of ``Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth),'' Gustav Mahler's ground-breaking combination of song cycle and symphony, in a chamber orchestra version that uses the original Chinese texts instead of the German translations that Mahler originally set to music in 1908.

Among those in the audience for this special event will be Daniel Ng Yat Chiu, a Hong Kong entrepreneur with a doctorate in chemical engineering and a love of Western classical music, especially Mahler.

Ng met Glen Cortese, the Oregon Mozart Players' music director, when Cortese was conductor of the orchestras at the Manhattan School of Music, which frequently played Mahler's music.

The two men became friends, and a couple of years ago Ng asked Cortese, who is also a composer, if he could re-set Mahler's music to fit the original Chinese poems.

This Cortese proceeded to do, with help from Ng and a Chinese scholar and with encouragement from cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Working on commission from Ng, Cortese made two arrangements. The first, for a very small instrumental ensemble, had its premiere in London last summer as part of the British Museum's "Silk Road Retrospective."

The Oregon Mozart Players will premiere the larger chamber orchestra version next weekend in two concerts: Saturday at the Hult Center and Sunday, Feb. 20, in the Shedd.

Retrofitting Mahler's music to work in Chinese rather than German was not easy, but neither was it as difficult as one might expect.

Cortese started with transliterated Chinese syllables and matched them to the musical stresses in the score, then fine-tuned the fit even more after consulting a Chinese language scholar from Hong Kong. …