You Have No Choice
Chamber music with works by Chinese avant-garde composers
A work commissioned by the House of World Cultures in co-operation with the Ensemble Modern
Concept: Liu Sola / conductor: Franck Ollu
In 1978, these composers were selected from among thousands of applicants to study at the Beijing Conservatory when it began admitting students again to the entrance examination for the first time since the Cultural Revolution. The Ensemble Modern will be playing eight pieces by these avant-garde composers, who have meanwhile won international acclaim. Works include two pieces commissioned for the House of World Cultures. In the novella You Have No Choice, singer, author and composer, Liu Sola, describes the remarkable situation of the young student who started at the Conservatory at the same time as her. ‘You have no choice.’ was the critical phrase, followed by: ‘You’re a composer now.’ This class was not only the first after a decade of Cultural Revolution but also the first that was emancipated from its constraints. In return, each student had to assume responsibility for his/her talent. The propaganda aesthetics of the Revolution were now a thing of the past; it was time for a new approach to tradition as well as a consistent search for new forms, for one’s own language. ‘Has there ever been a sound’ asked one of the composers, ‘that was his and his alone? What was he looking for? Where would you find him – the God of music?’
The concert shows the extraordinary outcome of their search for individual artistic paths: music that has evolved against the background of Chinese history and tradition, following years of ‘revolutionary re-education’ and studying regional musical styles in rural areas, and faced with the sudden opening up of their culture to the musical forms and styles of western composition. A generation of Chinese composers who have been collectively named ‘the new wave’ by music journalists: Tan Dun, Guo Wenjing, Ye Xiaogang, Qu Xiaosong, Chen Yi, Zhou Long, Chen Qigang and Zhang Lida.
Chen Qigang: Voyage d’un rêve (1987)
Flute, harp, drums, violin, viola, cello
Chen Quigang went to Paris after receiving awards in Beijing. In Paris, he studied under Olivier Messiaen, who praised the ‘intelligence’ and the ‘poetry’ of his works. His compositions include choreographies such as that for the New York company of Michael Mao, orchestral works such as Reflet d’un temps disparu, which was premièred by Yo Yo Ma and the Orchestre National de France, and the ballet Raise the Red Lantern (after the eponymous film directed by Zhang Yimou), which was performed by the Chinese National Ballet of Beijing. Chen Qigan writes of Voyage d’un rêve: ‘For me, this composition was an attempt to break free from the concepts of a “musical modernism” that had become more or less ossified.’
Chen Yi: Qi (1997)
Flute, violoncello, piano, drums
Chen Yi is one of the best-known composers of contemporary music on the international stage. After studying at Beijing Conservatory, she gained her doctorate at Columbia University and now lives in the USA. She was professor and composer-in-residence in San Francisco and Baltimore. Chen Yi has composed many commissioned works for American and international foundations, institutions and orchestras. During the last few years, her works have been performed in Hong Kong and the Carnegie Hall, in Singapore and at the Royal Albert Hall. An evening was also devoted to her orchestral and choral works, performed by the China Symphony Orchestra at Beijing Concert Hall. The magazine Chamber Music described her composition Qi as an overwhelming work, a tonal description of the forces of life.
Guo Wenjing: Parade (Xuan)
Trio for Six Beijing Opera Gongs, op. 40 (2003) played by three performers
Guo Wenjing, professor at Beijing Conservatory, received international acclaim for his operas, especially for his composition Wolf Club Village, based on Diary of a Madman. Le Monde compared the opera with Alban Berg’s Wozzeck and Shostakovich’s The Nose. Guo Wenjing taught himself to play the violin as a small boy. His musical roots include Sechuan folk music. His large orchestral works, in which Chinese percussion and bamboo flute, Tibetan sounds, the piano and the harp also play an important role, have been characterised as ‘subtle and unusual’ (F.A.Z.) and ‘intensive and lively’ (The Guardian, London).
Tan Dun: Concerto for Six (1997)
Clarinet, drums, piano, electric guitar, cello, contrabass
Tan Dun’s compositions have been performed by internationally renowned orchestras, such as the New York Philharmonics and the Boston Symphonic Orchestra. During the past few years, he has received commissions from the Metropolitan Opera NY and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Tan Dun, who lives in New York, has conducted major orchestras in the USA and elsewhere, such as the Concertgebouw Orchestra. He has also worked with musicians like Yo-Yo Ma. His orchestral works combine childhood memories of Shamanist rituals with western symphonic music and sounds from the world of nature. His operas include his version of the Peony Pavilion, premièred at the Vienna Festival, as well as internationally famous film music, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Critic Mary Lou Humphrey wrote of Tan Dun’s 12-minute Concerto for Six: ‘A light-hearted piece, like a dance: it reminds you of the merry atmosphere of a village festival.’
Qu Xiaoson: Excerpts from Cursive (2000-2001)
Cello, drum trio
Qui Xiaosong has returned to China after living in New York for ten years. He now teaches at Shanghai Conservatory. He began his musical career as a violinist in a Beijing Opera ensemble. He studied in Beijing and then in the USA, where he intensively studied the works of John Cage. He has composed commissioned works for orchestras and festivals in Brussels, Munich, Paris, London, Cincinnati and other cities. His works include the music for the choreography of the Cloud Gate Theatre Taiwan and percussion concerts for Hong Kong and Taipei; operas such as Death of Oedipus as well as guitar solos. Pianist Roger Woodward, describes Qu Xiaosong’s music as crystal clear, and conveying the tenderness of a magical chamber music of the kind one finds in Feldman, Takemitsu, Messiaen, Debussy, Chopin, Schubert and Mozart.’
Ye Xiaogan: Nine Horses (1993)
Flute, oboe, clarinet, two drummers, piano, violin, viola, cello, contrabass
Ye Xiaogang commutes between Beijing, where he lectures and serves as composer-in-residence at the Conservatory, and Exton in Pennsylvania. He writes symphonic works, chamber music and film music, and has also curated his own festival for contemporary music in the Chinese capital. His work The Song of the Earth, written for soprano and orchestra, was premièred there at the beginning of 2005. For this piece, Ye used the original Chinese text that also inspired Gustav Mahler when he was composing his eponymous symphony. Ye Xiaogang’s most recent work, the Ling Nan Suite, which draws on Cantonese folk tunes, was premièred at the Carnegie Hall, New York, last autumn, and is now touring the world. Writing about Nine Horses, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik described Ye Xiaogang as ‘the greatest champion of the struggle to liberate music from doctrines hostile to art’.
Zhang Lida: New work (première)
commissioned by the House of World Cultures
Flute, oboe, trumpet, trombone, piano, drums, two violins, viola, cello, contrabass
Zhan Lida studied the violin in Mongolia before she received a place at the Beijing Conservatory. On finishing her studies, she did music-ethnological research in Tibet and other places. She has very wide-ranging interests. Zhan Lida is now professor at the Beijing Conservatory. She mostly composes large symphonic works for the National Symphony Orchestra of China and film music, such as Shadow Magic, which vividly conveys the encounter between western and Chinese music and culture at the beginning of the last century, taking the example of film and Beijing Opera.
Zhou Long: Bell Drum Tower (première)
commissioned by the House of World Cultures
Flute, oboe, clarinet, fagot, trumpet, trombone, violin, viola, cello, contrabass
Zhou Long studied at Beijing Conservatory. He later won a number of awards, including the first prize in a national competition for composition in 1985, and became composer-in-residence for China’s National Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra. After receiving a fellowship at Columbia University, he remained in the USA, where he has been living for twenty years now. His works have meanwhile been performed by many internationally renowned orchestras and institutions. Zhou Long continues to draw on tradition and also experiments with traditional instruments, performance techniques and sounds. He compares the integration of western music into his essentially Chinese compositions with the assimilation of Buddhist principles into Chinese culture during the Tang Dynasty. ‘The reciprocal stimulation of tone qualities, material and techniques and – at a deeper level – cultural heritage create challenging works.’