Gil Shaham's love affair with the 'Butterfly Lovers' Concerto extends back over fifteen years, and it is only now that the opportunity has arisen to document this rewarding work to disc. Gil is an enthusiastic exponent of this concerto, having performed it in concert in the United States, Europe and Asia.
It is a work with which Gil has a very strong musical affinity and in an interview with Gramophone Magazine in 2002 said “I think the writing is brilliant and violinistic". The work imitates the sound of various Chinese traditional instruments, in particular the inflexions and sliding pitches used by an erhu (two-string fiddle). "The erhu has no fingerboard so the slide feels very different. Also, on the erhu one cannot lift the bow as on a violin so articulations are different." Over the past 150 years Chinese violin-playing developed its own style and sound, and Gil was able to learn from various violinists, erhu-ists and teachers. "A whole world opened up to me. It was amazing to discover this concerto, the beautiful ancient legend on which it is based, a tiny bit of Chinese musical culture and even aspects of violin playing I had not known before."
The unprecedented success of the 'Butterfly Lovers' concerto began immediately after its premiere in 1959. The ensuing Cultural Revolution allowed the work after having first banned it, with the two composers hen and He serving prison terms. Its highly programmatic content -the centuries old story of a young heroine in feudal times - is based on one of the most famous folk-tales of the Chinese Operas. In many ways it is a symphonic translation of this operatic tradition. Recent dramatizations of the story in the forms of novels, feature films, and even animated television series have served to enhance the concerto’s following. Today it enjoys unparalleled popularity in China and more and more in the West as well. As one of the world's leading virtuosos, Gil Shaham is the first to have added the work to his concert repertoire. He says that he enjoys the advantage of having no "cultural or political baggage", and feels able to interpret this work for the sheer joy that the music offers."