A mutual love of Chinese culture led award-winning American composer Zhou Long to write a gongfu-inspired concerto, Postures, for Swiss pianist Andreas Haefliger.
Haefliger has trained in gongfu for more than 10 years in a traditional Chinese temple in Austria. He performs Zhou's new work in public for the first time this Friday at the Esplanade Concert Hall, during the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's opening concert for the season.
The line-up mirrors what the orchestra will present on Sept 2 at the BBC Proms in London, an annual festival of daily concerts organised by the British broadcaster. This will be its first time at the BBC Proms and the invitation to perform can be considered a testimonial to the orchestra's high standard.
The concert will begin with the crowd-pleasing overture to Glinka's opera, Russlan & Ludmilla, followed by Rachmaninov's Second Symphony, which conductor Lan Shui, 56, calls "a showcase for the orchestra", following its well-received 2008 recording of the same.
The highlight for many will be Postures, the first piano concerto from Zhou, who won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2011 for his opera, Madam White Snake. However, the piece apparently gave the British publicity team for the Proms pause for thought, according to the composer.
"They asked: 'Is the pianist required to do gongfu? Does the piano need to move up and down?'," says the 61-year-old, laughing on the telephone from China, where he and his composer wife Chen Yi are teaching at Tianjin University.
Though influenced by Beijing opera and tribal music from north-east China, Postures is in the formal piano concerto style. There are three parts, lasting 24 minutes in total.
The first part, Piano Dance, is inspired by the traditions of tribal shamans, who wear animal masks and dance. The lyrical central movement, Piano Bells, includes parts for two types of temple bells while the percussion-heavy finale, Piano Drums is drawn from Beijing opera.
Zhou wrote the piece in half a year and says he "felt confident in the project".
He adds: "I consider the Singapore Symphony Orchestra a world-class orchestra. I'm proud, I'm really honoured to write not one but several commissions for it."