Commissioned by the Toronto Chinese Orchestra
According to Chinese folklore, Princess Miao Shan is believed to be one of the incarnations of the Guanyin Bodhisattva, also known in Chinese mythology as the Goddess of Mercy. Though there are many variations on the legend of Miao Shan, the general story holds that she was the third and youngest child of a cruel king. As Miao Shan showed a desire to pursue a monastic life from an early age, she defied the king’s orders to marry a wealthy man. After she entered the temple, the king arranged for her to take on the toughest chores in a bid to discourage her, but legend has it that due to her compassionate nature, all the animals in the temple helped her out with her chores. Out of desperation, the king then ordered for the temple to be burnt down, but Miao Shan managed to put out the fire with her bare hands in a miraculous display. Struck by fear, the king ordered for Miao Shan to be executed, but Miao Shan was rescued (different versions of the story point to different causes), and eventually retreated to the Fragrant Mountain where she meditated. Years later, the king was struck by illness, and was told by a mysterious monk to seek help from the hermit living on the Fragrant Mountain, and obtain an eye and an arm from the hermit to make medicine. Upon receiving a visit from the king’s messenger, Miao Shan gave up both eyes and both arms without hesitation, and the king was cured. When the king and queen visited the mountain to return their thanks, they were shocked to discover that the hermit was in fact their estranged daughter, and was overcome with regret and begged for her forgiveness. Miao Shan replied, “Having given up these human eyes, I shall see with diamond eyes. Having yielded up these mortal arms, I shall receive golden arms.” At those words, Miao Shan transformed into the thousand-armed, thousand-eyed Guan Yin Bodhisattva, and then ascended into heaven.
This piece is not intended to be a musical retelling of the Miao Shan legend, but rather, a homage to this mythological character and her story of compassion and self-sacrifice. The composer quotes the melody from the Henan folk tune Weaving the Flower Basket 编花篮 as a nod towards the geographical origins of this legend.
Premiered on 9 June 2019 under the baton of Chih-Sheng Chen in Toronto, Canada