Premiere Works: Music From China Ensemble

Chinese instruments by award-winning composers Chen Yi, Zhou Long, and Wang Guowei, plus a pair of winning compositions from the seventeenth-annual Music From China International Composers Competition. New York’s Music From China ensemble performs the classical “Moon Rising High,” newly arranged by Zhou Long; Chen Yi’s “Chinese Fables,” and Shen Yiwen’s “Study in Terra Cotta,” among other new works. The Kansas City Star called the Music From China ensemble “music from heaven” and “exceptionally rewarding.”

See images, program notes and related artwork at https://www.freersackler.si.edu/series/music/

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Program

The Moon Rising High (1986)                                                                     classical/arr. Zhou Long (b. 1953)

Music From China commission                                                                                                           

  1. A Night Boating, 2. Silkworms Spin Gossamer Strands, 3. Cascading Falls, 4. Cries of Apes Echo in the Valley, 5. Distant Toll of Temple Bells, 6. Returning Fishing Boats

This classical pipasolo, published in the Yang Zhengxuan Collection of Pipa Musicin 1929, is accompanied by an ensemble with music composed by Zhou Long. Eight sections with poetic subtitles evoke images of the moon in different natural settings. The elegant simplicity of the original pipamusic is enriched by the sonority and timbral colors of an ensemble of strings, wind and percussion.

Sun Li, pipa; Wang Guowei, gaohu; Judith Pearce, flute; Sarah Chou, zheng;

Helen Yee, yangqin; Yingying Cao, daruan; Frank Cassara, percussion

Spectrum (2007)                                                                                                                        He Wei (b. 1984)

2007 Music From China International Composition Competition winner

Using Russian composer Alexander Scriabin’s synesthesia system (association of color and music) as the basis, the composer draws from traditional Chinese music and changing hues derived from the twelve-color spectrum to suggest varied patterns of audio and visual perception. The music begins with ornamental portamention fixed notes by the erhu, pipa, and daruanwhich intertwine and gradually expand. This is followed by a section of defined rhythmic structure and melodic construction. Recapitulation and re-organization of all musical material appear in the third section.

Wang Guowei, erhu; Sun Li, pipa; Yingying Cao, daruan

Chinese Fables (2002)                                                                                                              Chen Yi (b. 1953)

Music From China commission

  1. The Fox Profited by the Tiger’s Might 2. Master Dong Guo and the Wolf 3. The Snipe and the Clam

The composer says of this work:  It’s most inspiring when I learnt some of the most popular Chinese fables in my childhood. They are vivid and humorous, full of imagination, yet so profound in their logic. I used a mixed Chinese and western instrumental ensemble, including two bowing and one plucking instruments, with a group of percussion, to express my impressions of three favorite stories.

In the first movement “The Fox Profited by the Tiger’s Might,” I used the erhuand pipato represent the flaunting fox who borrows the tiger’s fierceness by walking in the latter’s company, while the cello and percussion in low register support the image of the tiger. In the second movement “Master Dong Guo and the Wolf,” I used the cello and the erhuto represent the soft-hearted scholar Dong Guo who narrowly escaped being eaten by a wolf whom he had helped to hide from a hunter. The pipa’ssound is sometimes charming and at times aggressive, reflecting the cunning of the savage wolf.

The third movement, “The Snipe and the Clam,” features the percussion’s high register in a texture formed by the other instruments to evoke a grappling scene between the snipe and the clam who are locked together, with neither yielding its grip. “If it doesn’t rain today or tomorrow,” said the snipe, “there will be a dead clam lying here.” “If I don’t set you free today or tomorrow,” retorted the clam, “there will be a dead snipe here too.” As neither would give way, a fisherman came and caught them both.  — Chen Yi

Wang Guowei, erhu; Sun Li, pipa;

Gregory Hesselink, cello; Frank Cassara, percussion

 

INTERMISSION

 

Two Plus Two (2007)                                                                                                       Wang Guowei (b. 1960)

Music From China commission

 

The 2-stringed erhuis joined by the sanxian(lute) and yangqin(hammered dulcimer), with an accompanying tape. Using musical material derived from Chinese theatre, the composition begins with pingtan and Kunqu styles, then moves on to the Shaoxing Yueju and Jingju operatic forms. The three instruments’ melodies are constructed in different keys which are then further developed with continuous modulation. This piece is the second of the composer’s works to reflect on the cultural and social essence of the tea house as a focal point of Chinese folk life.

Wang Guowei, erhu; Yingying Cao, sanxian;

Helen Yee, yangqin, and tape

 

Study in Terra-Cotta (2007)                                                                                                Shen Yiwen (b. 1987)

2007 Music From China International Composition Competition Winner

The still, yet life-like, terra-cotta burial soldiers from ancient Qin dynasty tombs are conceived as a synergy of wen(civil) and wu(military) opposite styles in Chinese music and the elements of traditional and contemporary.

Sun Li, pipa; Sarah Chou, zheng

 

Mount A Long Wind (2004)                                                                                                  Zhou Long 

Music From China commission

The composer writes of this piece:  My own journey to America runs concurrently with my journey with Music From China, which has brought us both the joy of exploring and learning. "Mount a Long Wind" is dedicated to Music From China on their twentieth anniversary. It is inspired by Tang dynasty poet Li Bai’s "The Hard Road" (One of Three).

Pure wine costs, for the golden cup, ten thousand coppers a flagon,

And a jade plate of dainty food calls for million coins.

I fling aside my chop-sticks and cup, I cannot eat nor drink...

I pull out my dagger, I peer four ways in vain.

I would cross the Yellow River, but ice chokes the ferry;

I would climb the Tai-hang Mountains, but the sky is blind with snow.

I would sit and poise a fishing-pole, lazy by a brook—

But I suddenly dream of riding a boat, sailing for the sun...

Journeying is hard,

Journeying is hard.

There are many turnings—

Which am I to follow?

I will mount a long wind some day and break the heavy waves

And set my cloudy sail straight and bridge the deep, deep sea.

My music reflects the vivid imageries of the poem. Textured waves accompanied by strong rhythmic chords on pipaand zhengsymbolize a journey—to mount a long wind and break the heavy waves. As the music briefly calms, a vigorous rhythmic section ensues which shapes a scene of driving the dragon boat. In the middle section, a melody played by erhuwith harmonics on pipaand glissandi on zhengevoke sounds of nature. A recapitulation of the vigorous rhythmic section brings the music to a celebratory climax.

Wang Guowei, erhu; Sun Li, pipa; Judith Pearce, flute;

Sarah Chou, zheng; Frank Cassara, percussion

All compositions are Washington, DC, premieres.

Music From China performs Chinese classical and folk music as well as new music by living composers to audiences across the U.S. and internationally. Established in 1984, the ensemble has appeared at the Library of Congress, Boston Early Music Festival, 92nd Street Y, Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, with the Avison Ensemble in England and BBC broadcast, Dionysia Festival in Rome, Eastman School of Music, Chautauqua Institution, Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as academic institutions including Princeton, Duke, Pittsburgh, Yale, Wisconsin, Indiana, Bucknell, Colgate, Vermont, Middlebury, Wesleyan, and Vassar. Recipient of a Chamber Music America/ASCAP award for Adventurous Programming, the ensemble commissions new music and produces the Premiere Works series of annual concerts showcasing works by established and emerging composers. Music From China’s activities include performances, touring, residencies, arts in education, music instruction, and training the Music From China Youth Orchestra.

Performers

Yingying Cao graduated from the Xinghai Conservatory in Guangzhou where she majored in zhongruanand sanxian. She was a member of the Guangdong Arts Ensemble.

Sarah Chou began studying zhengat an early age and has performed with various Chinese music ensembles in the United States.

Sun Li graduated from the Shenyang Music Conservatory where she studied pipa. She was a member of the Central Song and Dance Ensemble in Beijing.

Wang Guowei is Artistic Director and erhusoloist of Music From China. He studied at the Shanghai Conservatory and was former concertmaster and erhu soloist of the Shanghai Traditional Orchestra. He has toured Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Belgium, Canada, Australia, England, and Italy. He has performed with the Virginia Symphony, New Music Consort, Ethos Percussion Group, Ornette Coleman Trio, Butch Morris, Amelia Piano Trio, and the Shanghai, Ying, Cassatt, and Sunrise string quartets.  He last appeared at the Freer Gallery with the Shanghai Quartet in 2006.

Helen Yee has performed yangqin (hammered dulcimer) with Music From China since 1986. She is first violinist of the string quartet INVERT.

Frank Cassara (guest musician) has performed around the globe as percussionist with the Philip Glass Ensemble, Steve Reich and Musicians, and as a member of the New Music Consort/PULSE Percussion Ensemble. He has toured extensively with the Newband/Harry Partch Ensemble and has also performed or toured with Music From China, Manhattan Marimba Quartet, Talujon Percussion Quartet, North/South Consonance and Parnassus. Mr. Cassara heads the percussion departments at Long Island University, Vassar College, and Brooklyn College Conservatory.

Cellist Greg Hesselink (guest musician) is a member of the Naumburg Award-winning New Millennium Ensemble, Sequitur, the Locrian Chamber Players, New Band, and is principal cellist of the Riverside Symphony. He has premiered more than 100 works worldwide including concertos by James Tenney, Daniel Weymouth, and Ross Bauer. He has recorded for the CRI, Nonesuch, Bridge, and Koch labels, among others, and teaches at Mannes Pre-College. During the summer, Greg teaches at Apple Hill and is a regular participant at the Monadnock Festival.

Judith Pearce (guest musician) is founding Artistic Director of the Weekend of Chamber Music in New Sunrise string quartets.  He last appeared at the Freer Gallery with the Shanghai Quartet in 2006.

Helen Yee has performed yangqin (hammered dulcimer) with Music From China since 1986. She is first violinist of the string quartet INVERT.

Frank Cassara (guest musician) has performed around the globe as percussionist with the Philip Glass Ensemble, Steve Reich and Musicians, and as a member of the New Music Consort/PULSE Percussion Ensemble. He has toured extensively with the Newband/Harry Partch Ensemble and has also performed or toured with Music From China, Manhattan Marimba Quartet, Talujon Percussion Quartet, North/South Consonance and Parnassus. Mr. Cassara heads the percussion departments at Long Island University, Vassar College, and Brooklyn College Conservatory.

Cellist Greg Hesselink (guest musician) is a member of the Naumburg Award-winning New Millennium Ensemble, Sequitur, the Locrian Chamber Players, New York’s Catskill Mountains. Her many collaborations range from Simon Rattle and Peter Maxwell Davies to Kathleen Battle and Cleo Laine. She has recorded often with the Nash Ensemble of London and the Fires of London, earning a Gramophone Award nomination for recording Nicholas Maw’s chamber music. She is a member of several New York-based ensembles, and has appeared on several occasions with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Composers

Shen Yiwen graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory affiliate high school in 2005 before entering the conservatory. In 2006, he received a full scholarship to study at Bard Conservatory where his teachers include Joan Tower and George Tsontakis. In 2007 Shen Yiwen participated in the Aspen Music Festival and School. His compositions have often won awards at competitions in China.

He Wei graduated from the Shenyang Conservatory majoring in composition and is currently studying for a master's degree at the China Conservatory in Beijing.

Wang Guowei has maintained a life-long interest in promoting traditional and contemporary Chinese music both as erhu performer and composer. His major works include Sheng, a solo for erhu which he premiered in 1996; Tea House for Chinese ensemble which premiered on Australia’s ABC Radio National and performed at the 1998 Adelaide and Melbourne festivals; Two Pieces for Percussion Quartet: Kong˙Wu, commissioned and premiered by the Ethos Percussion Group at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall and recorded on the group’s Sol Tunnels CD; American Composers Forum commission Three Poems for Erhu premiered by Music From China; and Tang Wind, commissioned by the Multicultural Group incorporating three Chinese plucked instruments with Western orchestra.

Zhou Long is Professor at the Conservatory of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He graduated from the Central Conservatory in Beijing and received his doctorate from Columbia University. He was appointed Composer-in-Residence of Seattle Symphony’s Silk Road Festival, and received a lifetime achievement award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Among his many honors are the Masterprize (from the BBC/EMI/London Symphony), the Barlow International Competition (performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic), and the CalArts/Alpert Award, among others. His many commissions include the Koussevitzky and Fromm Music Foundations, Meet The Composer, Chamber Music America, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony at the Proms Festival, Tokyo Philharmonic, Singapore Symphony, Cork Music Festival of Ireland, Kronos/Shanghai/Ciompi/Chester Quartets, and the concert-length Rites of Chimes with Yo-Yo Ma and Music From China, from the Smithsonian Institution.

Chen Yi is the Cravens/Millsap/Missouri Distinguished Professor at the Conservatory of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She received the Charles Ives Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001. She and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2005. Chen Yi received her bachelors and masters degrees in music composition from the Central Conservatory in Beijing, and her doctorate from Columbia University. She has served as Composer-in-Residence for the Women’s Philharmonic, the vocal ensemble Chanticleer, & Aptos Creative Arts Center, supported by Meet The Composer, and as a member of the composition faculty at Peabody Conservatory. Honors include a first prize from the Chinese National Composition Competition, the Lili Boulanger Award, the NYU Sorel Medal Award, the CalArts/Alpert Award, the ASCAP Concert Music Award, and the Elise Stoeger Award from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.