EVENT – From China to America: A Musical Journey with Tan Dun and Guests

Tan Dun

As part of its Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion exhibition, the New-York Historical Society, U.S. China Cultural Institute, and Cultural Associate of the Committee of 100 presents, on January 10, an evening of contemporary classical music by award-winning Chinese and Chinese-American composers.

From China to America: A Musical Journey with Tan Dun and Guests features a performance and discussion by:

Tan Dun (?? / ??), “most widely known for his scores for the movies Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (???? /????) and Hero (??), as well as composing music for the medal ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His works often incorporate audiovisual elements; use instruments constructed from organic materials, such as paper, water, and stone; and, are often inspired by traditional Chinese theatrical and ritual performance.” (Wikipedia)

Zhou Long (?? / ??), a Pulitzer Prize winner who “draws upon influences from both musical spheres to create unique and unheard sounds in Western music circles…[and] has been hailed for capturing Chinese timbres and folk themes, yet incorporating them with Western conceptions of harmony, chromaticism and angularity. He also frequently takes familiar sounds and tunes, alters them through dissonances and thematic twists, making the familiar seem new and unheard. Known to sometimes create “otherworldly atmospheres” in his compositions, Zhou Long’s compositions imbue listeners with a sense of meditative calmness versus soporific melodies. Zhou Long is considered a pioneer in the area of combining ancient Chinese musical traditions with contemporary Western ensembles as his visions reach exciting and novel, yet common grounds.” (Wikipedia)

Chen Yi (?? / ??), “a Chinese violinist and composer of contemporary classical music. She was the first Chinese woman to receive a Master of Arts (M.A.) in music composition from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. ” Chen has won many awards and “was a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Music for her composition Si Ji (Four Seasons)” (Wikipedia)

Ying Quartet will pay tribute to composer Chou Wen-chung (???) who invited the three composers to the United States and Columbia University is credited as being a pioneer in combining Chinese and Western classical music traditions.

Here are a few videos to introduce you to the composers and performers:

Tan Dun – Theme to Hero (??)

Tan Dun – Paper Concerto (excerpt)

“We are surrounded by paper in our lives: our imaginations are captured and recorded in words or pictures, as we express newly discovered feelings about ourselves and the world around us. For a long time, I have been developing the idea of organic music, which embodies sounds of nature, water, paper, ceramics, and the mind. The environment is related to our lives, and spiritually, everything germinates from one seed of creativity.” –Tan Dun

Chen Yi – We Are America

“We Are America” is the third movement of San Francisco Girl’s Choir’s 2010 commission “Angel Island Passages” by Chen Yi. Scored for treble voices and string quartet, Chen Yi wrote the following about this commission:

“The creative idea for this work was initiated by Dr. McMane, who invited me to write the music, and sent me the book Island, poetry and history of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940, by Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung for reference in 2009. Inspired by the Angel Island stories, and by Felicia Lowe, who shared with me her film “Carved in Silence” and video productions “Chinatown” and “Road to Restoration”, I named the first movement of my work “1882”, which reflected the dark mood under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The collective poems carved on the wooden walls in Angel Island expressed deep emotion in sorrow and anxiety. The music in the second movement “Longing” is sad and sentimental. The third movement is called “We Are America”, which is ever-moving, energetic and optimistic. The text sung in the beginning in Chinese means “I am an American”. It’s sung in Cantonese dialect, then in Mandarin. As the music develops, from monophonic to polyphonic with increasing layers, the climax is reached when the text is turned to English “We are America”, which symbolizes the flourishing society with the great contribution from thousands of immigrants during the years. The music fades out towards the ending of the work, which pushes the scene to a remote picture, to look forward to the future peace of the world. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with such inspiring creative artists in this project, and hope the work is meaningful to our new society after the premier performance.” (San Francisco Girls Chorus)

Chen Yi – Spring Dreams

“In this choral music setting, Chen Yi focuses on expressing the excitement and happiness of springtime. She used a group of ostinatos in the beginning of the piece, gradually appearing in different tempos to imitate the birds singing in springtime, much like the opening of Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. The fresh melody sung by the soprano section sounds very much like Peking Opera singing-half sung and half spoken, which is also adapted for her melodic designs in Meditation, but in a different vocal arrangement. There is a turning point in the middle of this choral piece, when the music is reaching a climax by repeating the text “knowing how many?” suddenly the birds singing stops, indicating the sweet dream is over. The choir resumes a unison singing toward to the end, submerging into wordless sorrow as if the bird singing became crying fading away.” (Wen Zhang)

The piece incorporates the poem “Spring Dreams” by Tang Dynasty poet Meng Haoran (???)

Spring dreams unconscious of dawning ??????
Not woke up till I hear birds singing ??????
Oh night long wind and showers ??????
Know you how many petals falling? ??????

(English translation by Chen Yi)

Zhou Long – Pianogongs

Pianogongs was inspired by the sonorities of the percussion section of the Beijing opera. The work is for one performer and features a combination of piano (functioning like a percussion instrument) and 2 gongs which are laid on the soft top of extra d-piano-benches to the left of the performer. The structure of the piece is formed by alternation of three different musical ideas: a fast repetitive rhythm, a series of chords based on the major triad and perfect fourth, and an energetic staccato motif.” (Oxford University Press)

Chou Wen-chung – Yü Ko (Fisherman’s Song, ?? / ??)

Ying Quartet – Beethoven String Quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4

Saturday, January 10, 7 PM
New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West
$38/admission; $24/NYHS members

Image: tandun.com