The Philadelphia Orchestra, led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, will present the New York premiere of composer Tan Dun’s “Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women” at 8 p.m. on Friday at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
The work is an exploration — through film and music — of an ancient Chinese language secretly created by women in the remote province of Hunan and passed through generations of mothers and daughters by reading, writing and singing.
Principal harpist Elizabeth Hainen will be the featured soloist.
Dun spent three years in China’s Hunan Province researching Nu Shu, the language women created for each other and share while doing chores and rituals and instructing their daughters on how to have a good life.
The twelve “micro films” about mothers, daughters and sisters’ lives, derived from Dun’s field recordings, serve as the center of the composition. He selected harp as the solo instrument because of “its beautiful feminine sounds” and distinctive physical shape — similar to one of the ancient Nu Shu characters.
“It’s not a conventional concerto,” Hainen said. “The harp is a troubadour telling these women’s stories.”
Dun, best known for his score to the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and the music in the medals ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics, grew up in a rice-farming village near Hunan’s capital. He followed his interest in the roots music of his homeland to research Nu Shu and capture its spirit. The work had its U.S. premiere in Philadelphia last fall and its Chinese premiere in May.
The orchestra will also perform tonight, with a Haydn-Rodrigo-Tchaikovsky program and soloists on trumpet and guitar; and on Saturday night, with a Balakirev-Gershwin-Rachmaninoff program and Alain Lefevre as piano soloist.
Tickets are $85-$32 for inside seats and $24 on the lawn. Children 12 and under are free on the lawn. SPAC’s new Student Rush program entitles students with a valid ID to purchase one amphitheatre seat for $15 on the night of the performance. Tickets are available online at spac.org, by phone at 518-584-9330 or at SPAC’s Box Office.