Concert commemorates 50th anniversary of China’s ‘sent-down’ youth movement

Yale Concert Band performing “Ask the Sky and the Earth” in Woolsey Hall in 2011.
A 2011 performance of “Ask the Sky and the Earth” in Woolsey Hall. The performance of the musical piece this year marks the 50th anniversary of China’s “sent-down” youth movement.

The Yale Concert Band will mark the 50th anniversary of the “sent-down” youth movement of China’s Cultural Revolution in a concert on Thursday, March 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Woolsey Hall, corner of College and Grove streets.

The band will be joined by the SYGQ Chorus in a performance of “Ask the Sky and the Earth: An Oratorio Cantata for the Sent-down Youth” for wind band and chorus. The band will be directed by Thomas C. Duffy and the chorus will be conducted by Charles Lu. Admission is free.

Ask the Sky and the Earth” features libretto by Wei Su, senior lector of East Asian langauges at Yale, and music by composer Dongling Huo (Tony Fok). In 1968 during China’s Cultural Revolution, while America’s youth was preparing to launch the “Summer of Love,” 15-year-old Wei Su witnessed the arrests of his father and brother and repeated beatings of his grandmother and sisters by China’s military police. Three months later, wanting to escape his misery, he joined 17 million of China’s middle- and high-school aged urban youth who streamed into the countryside to participate in the “up to the mountains and down to the villages” movement. In distant borderlands, on remote islands, and in harsh wilderness, these young men and women passed years of their youths, sacrificing formal educations to be schooled in hard agricultural labor.

In 2007, Su returned to the island of Hainan, where he spent 10 years of his prime years on farms. There he reunited with fellow “farmmate” Fok, and their visit inspired them to create a piece of music to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the sent-down youth movement in 2008. Fok’s setting of Su’s epic poem “Ask the Sky and the Earth” conveys the spirit of this epoch, the sentiments of an entire generation as they think back upon their youths, and Su’s desire to “give thanks to life, give thanks to the land.” The Yale Concert Band and the SYGQ Chorus premiered this arrangement for chorus and wind band in 2011 in Woolsey Hall, repeating it later the same year in Carnegie Hall and Strathmore Hall. Duffy transcribed the piece.

In addition to “Ask the Sky and the Earth,” the Yale Concert Band will also present Duffy’s “Three Places in New Haven.” Composer Charles Ives spent four years in the city as a Yale student from 1894 to 1898. Many of the places he frequented are still intact, and each movement of this marimba concerto addressed one particular place in New Haven. Yale School of Music student Sam Um will perform on marimba.

For more information, call 203-432-4111 or visit the Yale Bands website.

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Stephanie Hubbard: stephanie.hubbard@yale.edu,