All Notes | Collapse
"After Spring" (1983)
"After Spring" was written between 1982-83 when the composer
was living in Seattle.
The piece starts with a simple five-note theme, which is slowly
developed, expanded, recycled and varied. From a single melody
gradually chords are formed. Perfect fifth is a significant interval,
as a part of the melody at first, then it grows towards the end
of the piece into a section which consists of harmonies made up
of superimposed fifths.
The formal aspect of "After Spring" is similar to the general
construction of a traditional Chinese Qin piece. Basically it
can be divided into five sections: 1. "Loose" rhythm, slow tempo,
what the qin players called "Loose beginning." 2. Gradually enters
the main theme, called "Into the tune" — becomes more regular
rhythmically. The five-note theme is repeated and developed, the
music comes to a high point. 3. A highly contrasting passage brings
the music to "Into Slow" section. 4. As the piece has the tendency
to end, new material derived from old appears, leading the piece
to a new stage, which is called "Start again." 5. Finally the
theme is briefly restated, called "Ending sound."
This composition received the hightest honor in 1987 at the
"Shanghai Music Competition," which was the first international
composers' contest that took place in China.
"Another Spring" (1988)
"Another Spring" is the third of my "Spring series"
which features piano in various ensemble settings. It emphasizes
the linear aspect of the piano, as both alto flute and cello are
primarily melodic instruments. The object is to form a harmonious
whole while retaining the individual quality of each instrument.
"Atlas" uses the idea of an oriental carpet as a point
of departure. It contains repetitive elements analogous to the border
pattern, then evolves into a centerpiece which makes up the main
section of the work. Much of the musical material consists of melodic
fragments, similar to Gushe, a Persian melodic type, literally meaning
corner, part, and angle. Attracted by the name of this ensemble,
I picture this piece as an imaginary musical atlas, moving through
the many lands where all the instruments come from.
The major challenge for me in composing this work is to find
an appropriate musical context for all the instruments of Central
Asia, Europe and China to co-exist, without compromising their
own individual identities. At first, they seem to be in a foreign
territory, playing music that is not familiar; gradually they
reveal their own "ethnic" characteristics. As the piece
progresses, they seek to find a common ground, a common language,
and harmony. For a moment, they seem to have arrived at the goal
only to drift off again into silence.
I am very grateful to have the opportunity to compose this piece,
which is dedicated to my friend Juliette Moran, whose enthusiasm
to life has been an inspiration for me. She always says: "We
are all from the same genetic pool, there is only one race, the
human race." I had this sentence in mind all through the
months while I was working on this composition. Even though all
the instruments seem to have their own national characteristics,
they all stem from the same source. It's fascinating to me how
Ud became lute in Europe, Pipa in China and Biwa in Japan. Maybe
one day all nations will co-exist in peace, just like in our little
musical world, with all the musicians from different countries
playing happily together.
"Bittersweet Music" is a series of pieces for solo
instruments, mostly virtuosic in nature. "Bittersweet Music
I" for piccolo solo explores the expressive capacity and timbral
possibilites of the instrument, making extensive use of its low
register, multiphonics and microtones.
"Bittersweet Music III" is one of the end products resulted
from my three-month residency in Japan, under the auspices of
the Asian Cultural Council. It was inspired by a visit to the
Meian Temple, the "Mecca" of the Fuke-shu school of Shakuhachi
players. I have no intention of writing Japanese or Shakuhachi
music but would like to evoke the meditative quality of these
compositions. This work is written for and dedicated to my friend
and long-term collaborator Paul Taub.
"Circle" - for Orchestra (1992)
I started the composition of "Circle" during my residency in
Italy on a Rome Prize fellowship in 1992. My original proposal was
to compose a piece commemorating the 500th anniversary of Columbus'
discovery of America. I was amused by the fact that Columbus, an
Italian, set out to look for China, and found America instead, and
I, being Chinese, arrived in Italy via America. I later decided
that Columbus didn't need another piece for his glorification and
wanted to write a piece about exploration in general, in memory
of the other, lesser known explorers, particularly those who never
made it back. Using the geographic world as a model, I divided the
harmonic material into two groups of chords, each contains seven
notes, analogous to the seven continents; the other group has five
chords, each has five notes, corresponding to the five oceans. There
is a fanfare towards the end of the piece for John Cage, an explorer
of the human mind and spirit, who passed away as I was working on
"Fanfare for the New Millennium"
"Fanfare for the New Millennium" was commissioned
by the Macao Handover committee to celebrate the return of Macao
to China. It is dedicated to the people of Macao. In this piece,
I have made use of the repetitive element which is characteristic
of Cantonese music. On top of a dance-like ostinato, a small melodic
cell is repeated, extended, then multiplied until the whole orchestra
is playing this melody simultaneously. I had in mind what Chairman
Mao had once said: " Let a hundred flowers bloom, rid of the old
and bring out the new," symbolizing the continued prosperity of
Macao with the new era.
"Omi Hakkei" (2000)
"Omi Hakkei" refers to the eight scenic views of Omi by Lake
Biwa, near Kyoto, Japan. These views have been immortalized by the
woodblock prints of Hiroshige, whose work was very much influenced
by Chinese landscape paintings. I have visited these scenes during
my three-month residency in Japan, under the auspices of the Asian
Cultural Council in 1998. I was most intrigued by the cross-cultural
references of the same subject matter, yet expressed by such different
means. I also seek similar cross-cultural approach in my music by
combining Chinese and western instruments; eastern aesthetics with
western compositional techniques. I have quoted from Debussy and
Takemitsu in two of the movements as an homage to the masters. I
would like to dedicate this piece to the memory of Toru Takemitsu.
Pipa, the Chinese lute, is technically the most demanding of
all the Chinese musical instruments. It makes use of many complicated
finger techniques, among them "Run" is perhaps the most difficult.
It is executed by using five (or four, or three) fingers, taking
turns to strike the string (or strings) rapidly and continuously,
to produce an even and sustained tremolo.
"Run" also means wheels, or cycle in Chinese. "Run" was written
specially for Wu Man, who premiered the piece in 1993 in New York.
"Saudades de Macau" (1989)
This is a transcription for two pianos of the orchestral work
"Saudades de Macau," which was commissioned by the Macao Cultural
Institute and premiered in April of 1990 by the Macau Sinfonietta,
conducted by the composer.
The composition reflects the composer's memories of her birthplace.
"Saudades" is a famous Portuguese word that has been used by many
poets throughout history. Many Portuguese feel that there is no
equivalent word in English, but it can be loosely translated as
It is in five movements as follows:
Praia Grande (Grand Bay) - a poetic place where lovers linger
Fortaleza do Monte (Monte Frotress) - the historical battle of
1622 when the Dutch were defeated
Jardim Religioso (Religious Garden) - the multiplicity of different
religions co-existing in one place
Cancao de Embalar ( Lullaby) - a lullaby traditional to Macanese
children, based on a transcription of Harry Ore
Tonight's performance is a world premiere of this work.
"Six Phenomena" (1998)
The idea of "Six Phenomena" came from the "Diamond Sutra," as
"Everything has Potential Dharma, even as a dream,
A faulty vision, a bubble or a shadow,
As dew drops or lightning flash,
It should be viewed as it is."
There are six movements altogether, depicting each of the six
phenomena. As the Buddhist believes that the physical world is
just an illusion, I feel music shares the same illusive quality,
hence this composition.
"Song of the Pipa" - for Pipa Solo &
Commissioned by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, "Song of
the Pipa" is based on Tang Dynasty Poet Bai Juyi's poem of the same
title. It is intended to be a "translation" of the words into music
rather than literal illustrations. It takes on the spirit, the progress
and the pace of Bai's poem, unfolds slowly, like a scroll. The pipa
is heard first off-stage, as across the water, playing melodies
that evoke the music of the protagonist's young days in the capital
city. The soloist appears to view playing a cadenza, after which
she engages in dialogue with the cello (representing the poet) and
evokes with the orchestra Bai's rich emotional realm of remembrance
and melancholy and music regained when it was thought to be lost.
The key sentence of the poem is represented by a unison melody,
appears at the climax of the piece: "both of us are hapless outcasts
at the father end of the sky; meeting like this, why must we be
old friends to understand each other?" "Song of the Pipa" was premiered
on April 6, 2001 by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, conducted
by Samuel Wong, with Wu Man, Pipa soloist. This piece is dedicated
to my mother.
"Sudden Thunder" (1994)
"Sudden Thunder" was commissioned by the American Composers'
Orchestra and was premiered at Carnegie Hall, New York, in 1994,
with Wu Man as the pipa soloist. The work began as a solo piece
entitled "Run," exploring various traditional pipa techniques, with
a particular emphasis on "lun," the tremolo, technically the most
demanding of all. It then became a "found object," which was put
in the context of an orchestral work. The title "Sudden Thunder"
comes from a poem by Lu Xun: "Listen to sudden thunder where there
is no sound."