The Dream of the Red Chamber Suite

  • Composer Wang Liping (arr. Tung Chao-Ming, Trey Lee)
  • Cello and Chinese Orchestra

The music of The Dream of the Red Chamber, like the novel itself, is something unforgettable to all who encounter it. This was certainly the case when I first heard the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra’s splendid performance of this masterpiece. Afterward, this music’s possibilities on the cello became clearer as one song after another seemed to fit the sounds produced on the instrument. Not only is the music playable on the cello, but the instrument is also able to “sing” with emotions to which the human ear can relate.

With so many beautiful melodies to choose from, we wanted to find a format with which to present this work, and in the end, to keep the spirit of the original composition, the format of the suite was retained. Within this framework, each movement preserves its character as part of the larger narrative.


– Trey Lee


This arrangement of The Dream of the Red Mansions Suite for cello and orchestra adopts the song cycle form, taking five movements out of the original melodic structure by Wang Liping, then adding or deriving new elements. The five pieces forming the song cycle are: A Stormy Night by the Autumn Window, Lamenting Caltrop, The Lantern Festival, Grief in Vain and Song of Burying Flowers. In the first three, a short overture in the style of the Chinese narrative singing genre called pingtan is added. By bringing together the literary associations with the famous novel and the art of Chinese narrative singing, then interpreting them musically through the deep, emotionally charged notes of the cello and the lilting sounds of the winds and strings from the Chinese orchestra, we hope to retell the timeless tragedy of love in The Dream of the Red Mansions.

A Stormy Night by the Autumn Window

The pitter-patter of rain of the plucked-string instruments, and the whistle of the wind, played by the zhudi, illustrate the uneasiness in Lin Daiyu’s heart as well as her sentimental character, which is prone to melancholic spells.

Lamenting Caltrop

Caltrop is the maid in the Xue household. Her untimely death, however, is interpreted by the author as a happy release from the trouble-ridden mortal world, a return of the spirit to where it would rest forever in peace. This movement is therefore both a lamentation and a celebration of purgation.

The Lantern Festival

The Lantern Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the First Lunar Month, is celebrated with aplomb at the Prospect Garden. The opulence reflects the luxurious, excessive way of life in the Jia Residence. The music opens with a comic passage, suggesting Granny Liu’s wide-eyed excitement at being treated to a tour of the place. It is followed by rousing festive music that echoes throughout the halls, corridors and water features in the gardens of the Jia Residence.

Grief in Vain

Immediately following the rousing, festive mood in The Lantern Festival is this tearful outpouring of Daiyu’s heartbreaking grief, as she and Jia Baoyu are doomed to be separated, through fate as well as the intervention by the elders of the family. The emotional drama of the novel is expressed through the wailing lute and pulsing drums.

Song of Burying Flowers

As the lyrics of the song goes, “At the farthest end of the sky, Where can I find the grave of my fragrance lie?”, while Lin Daiyu laments the fate of the fallen flowers, her own tragic end also moves our hearts.

– Tung Chao-Ming

World Premiere

Date May 4, 2012
Composer Wang Liping (arr. Tung Chao-Ming, Trey Lee)
Concert The Dream of the Red Chamber
Venue Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Artists Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra
Yan Huichang, Conductor
Trey Lee, Cello Solo

Other Concerts

HKTDC Hong Kong Dinner in New York


Wang Liping (arr. Alfred Wong)


Jun 11, 2013


Cipriani 42nd Street, 110 East 42nd Street, New York, USA


Trey Lee, Cello
Noreen Cassidy-Polera, Piano

Peng Ying Rhapsody


Wang Liping (arr. Tung Chao-Ming, Trey Lee)


Sep 5, 2013


National Center for Traditional Arts, Taiwan


National Chinese Orchestra Taiwan
Yan Hui-chang, Conductor
Trey Lee, Cello Solo