Inspired by true events, Émigré is a cooperative project between
the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Long Yu and DG
Carefully crafted over five years, the oratorio has a libretto by
Pulitzer Prize-winner Mark Campbell, with additional lyrics by Brock Walsh
Émigré deals with a little-known chapter of World War Two: the welcome given by
the people of Shanghai to Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe in the 1930s
The work is performed by an outstanding cast of musicians
from the US and China under the direction of Long Yu
The album will be released digitally on 2 February 2024
Émigré receives its US premiere on 29 February with the New York Philharmonic
“We’re very happy and proud to work with Deutsche Grammophon, especially on this project.
Our musicians in Shanghai felt fully involved in that relationship and have brought their best to this recording of a work which I believe is so important for our time”
Kindness and a compelling story of love triumph over destructive historical forces in Émigré, an oratorio in two acts with music by Aaron Zigman, libretto by Mark Campbell and additional lyrics by Brock Walsh. Co‑commissioned by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra (SSO), its Music Director Long Yu and the New York Philharmonic, and hailed by China Daily as “A musical celebration of compassion”, the work was recorded by Deutsche Grammophon in the context of the world premiere in Shanghai (17 November 2023). It is the fifth project to emerge so far from DG’s exclusive and fruitful agreement with the SSO and Maestro Yu, their previous recordings including The Song of the Earth, Gateways and Live from the Forbidden City – Carmina Burana.
The recording of Émigré is set for digital release on 2 February 2024. It boasts a potent combined force of 190 musicians, among them tenors Matthew White and Arnold Livingston Geis, sopranos Meigui Zhang and Diana Newman, mezzo-soprano Huiling Zhu, and bass-baritones Shenyang and Andrew Dwan; members of the New York Philharmonic Chorus; the Lanzhou Concert Hall Choir; and the SSO conducted by Long Yu. Its physical release (2 CDs) will follow on 28 June 2024.
Émigré was inspired by China’s unparalleled decision to open its borders to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi oppression in Europe. Between 1938 and 1941, Shanghai welcomed around 20,000 Jews from Germany, Austria and Poland. The cosmopolitan free port became a haven to many – including a number of outstanding musicians who joined the multinational ranks of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra – and Shanghai became known as “the Noah’s Ark of the Orient”.
Recognising the contemporary resonance of the humanitarian impulse behind these events, the SSO’s current Music Director initiated the oratorio project. “Émigré shows how people can come together in difficult times,” observes Long Yu. “I’m very proud of the Shanghai people, who embraced those who came there in need of help. We all need to think about how we could connect with others. I’ve worked with musicians around the world without ever thinking about where they’re from. Music is our common language. It’s the best language to deliver a message of hope.”
“Every new project involves a leap of faith,” says Dr Clemens Trautmann, President Deutsche Grammophon. “And this historic story of human struggle and values seemed so moving to us, and the cross-continental collaboration between Aaron Zigman, Mark Campbell, Brock Walsh and Maestro Long Yu, and between the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, so remarkable, that we decided to record this unique work long before the score was ready for performance. Listeners can decide for themselves whether to draw analogies with our own conflict-ridden times, or just focus on the drama of the work’s protagonists. The SSO is an ideal partner, not only because of Shanghai’s long history as a cultural melting-pot, but because of the orchestra’s first-class musicians and the inspirational leadership of Maestro Long Yu. We are proud to have already worked on four projects with the SSO and Maestro Yu, including a major live performance from the Forbidden City and programmes exploring the intersection between Eastern and Western music. Documenting a notable world premiere is, however, a first for this partnership. I believe the discoveries we’ve made together so far, and those we go on to make and to share with our listeners in the future, will have a lasting impact.”
Maestro Yu approached Aaron Zigman about the project, having previously collaborated with the latter on his piano concerto, Tango Manos. Known to millions as the composer of over 70 film and TV soundtrack scores, including those for The Notebook, Wakefield and the Sex in the City franchise, Zigman has also seen his melodious and accessible music make its mark in the concert hall with works as diverse as Vis vitae for octet (2006), No Strings Attached for horn sextet (2007) and Tango Manos (2019), co‑commissioned by the Beijing Music Festival, Radio France and the San Francisco Symphony.
The composer drafted an initial scenario, which he then developed into a 90-minute oratorio with Mark Campbell, author of librettos for 40 operas, lyricist of seven musicals and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Music and a Grammy Award. Campbell drew on the history of close family members to tell a story set during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45). Also featuring lyrics by songwriter Brock Walsh, and opening with a chorus comprising Jewish, Christian and Buddhist prayers for peace, the story charts the lives of two Jewish brothers who arrive in Shanghai after Kristallnacht (November 1938). When one falls in love with a Chinese girl, both families oppose the relationship. Ultimately, however, they realise that their shared humanity outweighs any cultural or political differences.
Aaron Zigman hopes listeners will reflect on thatfundamental message. “I want it to make people feel, through the love of humanity, through what happens when you connect with another,” he says. “This piece is my love letter to China. Of course, there were other places that opened their arms to Jewish refugees, but China was unique in doing what it did.”
“The oratorio,” adds Mark Campbell, “is a story that needs to be told – about how one country reached out and let in people from another country who had nowhere else to go. Sadly, it’s a story that still resonates today.”
Émigré – key dates
2018 Work commissioned by Maestro Long Yu
17 November 2023 World premiere performance: Jaguar Shanghai Symphony Hall
2 February 2024 Digital album release
29 February 2024 North American premiere: Lincoln Center, New York – Long Yu conducts members of the original cast, the New York Philharmonic and NY Phil Chorus
28 June 2024 Physical album release
4/5 October 2024 Performances by the China Philharmonic Orchestra at the Beijing Music Festival
3 November 2024 European premiere (Berlin), given by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
25/26 April 2025 Performances by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
June 2025 UK premiere (London), given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (exact date tbc)