Tremors of a Memory Chord
full scorefor piano and grand Chinese orchestra (2011)
|Commissioned by the Taipei Chinese Orchestra, and written for pianist Pi-Hsien Chen
|April 14, 2011; Taipei National Concert Hall; Taipei Chinese Orchestra • En Shao, conductor • Pi-Hsien Chen, piano
|piano solo (with slide bar); 2 bangdi, 2 qudi, soprano sheng, alto sheng, bass sheng, 2 soprano suona, 2 alto suona, 2 yangqin, 3 pipa, 2 liuqin, 3 zhongruan, 2 daruan, guzheng; 6 dajiyue, 2 gaohu, 2 erhu, zhonghu, gehu, bass gehu
|Performance materials are available for order:
Every tone, every sonority is full of memories.
I was born in the last years of the Cultural Revolution. Growing up in Beijing, there was a lot of music that reflected the sentiments and propaganda of the time. These were sounds of revolutionary passion, iron will, and boiling blood.
I left Beijing for the US in 1990 when I was 17 years old. In exile, I started searching for the sound of my heart’s distant homeland. These sounds gradually became fantasies: some near, some far; some dense, some sparse; some ancient, some new. Some are metallic, some are tender, as if made of silk and bamboo. These floating sonorities stir up my fragmented memories, and they contain the sounds of the present, the past and perhaps the future. Some of these sounds spring forth from my memories and spill over the artificial definitions of regional and national boundaries.
Chinese instruments appear in countless combinations in traditional China. There were elegant Yayue ensembles, the standing and sitting orchestras of the Tang court, the string ensembles of the Qing dynasty, and many silk and bamboo ensembles, as well as wind and percussion varieties. In the 20th century, modeled after the Western orchestra, an orchestra of Chinese instruments was created. Technically, it is very challenging to blend the piano with an orchestra of Chinese instruments. To the discerning ears, different tuning systems clash and the timbres do not blend well. Moreover, various performance practice and styles are often in conflict. Besides, the form of a Concerto is also an import from the West.
The multi-dimensionality of traditional East Asian music is often exemplified by timbral richness of single notes and expressivity of single melodic lines. Rarely do they resort to countrapuntal or harmonic devices. For example, in the music of guqin and pipa, the combination of right-hand plucking techniques and left hand pitch modifications enables a solo instrument to project the coloristic richness of an entire ensemble.
In this piece, the “lun” and “yao” fingerings used on pipa and guzheng evolve into rapid tremolos between the two hands of the pianist. The pitches in the brilliant middle register of the piano are dampened, resulting in darker and more complex sonorities, which approximate the complexity of Chinese instruments. Thus, the piano becomes a string instrument, the orchestra its breathing chamber. This is the apparition, the epiphany, the ecstasy of single notes. Tones are breathing, strings are trembling: they fantasize in memories, and reminisce in fantasies.
Tremors of a Memory Chord (for piano and grand Chinese orchestra) was commissioned by the Taipei Chinese Orchestra, and written for pianist Pi-Hsien Chen.
- Lei Liang