Happy Chinese New Year! The Butterfly Lovers is best described as a Chinese Romeo and Juliet. The violin concerto of the same name was written in 1959 by a “collective” of two composers. It is a proof that sometimes you can rule by committee! The work was suppressed during the severely ideologically motivated times of the Cultural Revolution. Once the restrictions loosened, the concerto quickly found its audience. It is said to be the most popular classical music work in China. A friend recently told me how often he has heard the tunes from the concerto in the Hong Kong subway, played by street musicians. 


Nancy Zhou career has skyrocketed since winning the Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition in 2018. Guess who booked this Harvard graduate right after her victory? That is right, the Rogue Valley Symphony! The concerto is a proper vehicle for virtuosity, and, at the same time, it retells the key plot scenes of the story. At the meta level, it also retells the story of Western classical music through Chinese sensitivities. The result is a lyrical work that sounds both familiar and alluringly different. 


Bookending the Concerto, witness the meteoric rise of one of the founding fathers of the Western classical music. Beethoven’s first two symphonies are a treasure hunt – if you are familiar with his later music, you will find many characteristic traits here. The First Symphony is a delightful, fresh work of a confident young composer. Beethoven absorbed the influences of Haydn and Mozart and decided to interrupt the smooth flow of their styles with some unexpected sforzandos!


The Second Symphony is a major step forward – it is more complex, more sophisticated and bolder in its expression. It appeared experimental enough to enrage a number of contemporary critics. If only they knew about the revolution that was brewing in Beethoven’s mind.  Its name was “Eroica” and they only had to wait two more years for it.



An interview I recently gave to Oregon ArtsWatch can be found here. We talk about the state of the arts in Oregon. 

© 2020 by MARTIN MAJKUT. All photography Christopher Briscoe. Created with