“A Panoramic Guide to Glacier Travel”
for pipa, erhu, cello, zheng, and percussion
A Panoramic Guide to Glacier Travel was inspired by Chinese shan shui (literally, mountain-water) painting, and specifically the magnificent long horizontal landscape scrolls designed to be unrolled gradually, in sections, so as to give the viewer the sensation of taking a journey through a mountainous landscape. This piece is similarly episodic yet connected, and suggestive of various listener-constructed narratives, which may incorporate the grinding of glacier against bedrock, breathtakingly deep and deep-blue crevasses, ice-dancing, etc. (Unlike actual glacier travel, which is risky and requires special equipment, no specialized knowledge is required for listening to the piece).
A Panoramic Guide to Glacier Travel is dedicated to Chen Yi, whose friendship is one of my great treasures. Profound thanks as well to Susan Cheng, the director of Music From China, and the wonderful performers who have patiently answered many questions. My thanks also go to the artist Barbara Bernstein, who kindly lent me her copy of Guo Xi’s 11th-century treatise on landscape painting, Lofty Ambitions in Forests and Streams. Thanks also to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Ragdale Foundation for residency fellowships that enabled the composition of the piece.
“Three Dances From China South”
for dizi, erhu, pipa, and zheng
Mvmt 1. Lions Playing Ball
Mvmt 2. Bamboo Dance
Mvmt 3. Lusheng Dance
My chamber ensemble work Three Dances from China South is commissioned by Music From China to celebrate its 30th anniversary, and scored for Chinese traditional instruments dizi, erhu, pipa, and zheng. The commission has been made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund. The world premiere is given at Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall in New York City, on November 21, 2014.
There are three movements in Three Dances from China South. Material in the first movement “Lions Playing Ball” is drawn from a folk tune played in the accompanying ensemble for the folk dance of the same title in the Chaozhou region of Guangdong province. The image of the folk dance is vivid and entertaining. The movement includes several variations on the theme. The variation methods are inspired by the various rhythmic patterns used in traditional ensemble playing. The melodic material features a special mode with a triton interval taken from the folk tune. There are also lyrical sections with polyphonic layers in the variations.
The music in the second movement is inspired by the folk “Bamboo Dance,” which is popular among the Li minority people of Hainan Island in the south. In this age-old folk dance, performed for ritual ceremony and harvest celebration, pairs of people hold the ends of long bamboo poles and clap them loudly in stable pulse, while groups of dancers dance between the poles on the floor, in varied musical rhythms and ensemble patterns. A musical motive with a jumping interval and articulation is used throughout the movement.
The third movement is called “Lusheng Dance.” I have witnessed the folk dance performance of the Dong minority people in Guangxi province in the 1980’s. The exciting scene inspired me to imitate the large lusheng ensemble playing style in my ensemble of four Chinese instrumentalists without using the sheng (a wind instrument with metal pipes popular in concert music, and similar to the folk lusheng). Overlaying the rhythmic patterns, I imitated a two-voice folk song of the Zhuang minority people from the same province. The melody is played by the leading erhu and dizi.
“Mount a Long Wind”
for pipa, dizi, erhu, zheng and percussion
The music reflects the vivid imageries of Li Bai’s poem “The Hard Road.” Textured waves accompanied by strong rhythmic chords symbolize a journey—to mount a long wind and break the heavy waves. Vigorous rhythmic sections conjuring up the driving dragon boat and gentle melodies evoking the sounds of nature are followed by a recapitulation which brings the music to a celebratory climax.