1 bangdi, 1 qudi, 1 gaoyinsheng — 1 yangqin, 2 pipa, 2 zhongruan — 4 erhu, 2 Vc.
Mar 2016, West Road Concert Hall, Cambridgeshire, England
Ji Heng Lee (conducting), Cambridge University Chinese Orchestra Society
短奏曲 (duanzouqu) literally translates into ‘short performance piece’. This work was written for musicians from the Cambridge University Chinese Orchestra, to be premiered at their annual concert, on March 13, 2016, at the West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge. In preparing for the performance (conducted by myself), I had the privilege of working closely with the musicians.
In view of the limited rehearsal opportunities with them (during the Cambridge term), as well as their present state of proficiencies, I was faced with the challenge of writing a piece that was technically manageable (I wanted the musicians to enjoy playing it) yet harmonically exciting. With that I set out exploring ways of tweaking the musical idiom of Chinese instrumental writing, to create striking harmonic effects. For one, I have used two chromatically-altered forms of the D-pentatonic mode (in addition to the original one), derived by ‘shifting the sharp’ from the third degree, to the first and sixth. The solos played by the gaoyinsheng and yangqin feature each of these two variants respectively. To preserve their ability to surprise, I have used these variants sparingly, so that when they do appear, they come as sudden, brief, and unexpected shifts in harmonic colour. Such sounds stand out in the pentatonic idiom, and they are not commonly heard in pieces within the post-reformation Chinese orchestral repertoire (which has almost established itself as a ‘canon’ over the past decades).
In passages where all the instruments play together, I aimed to achieve a greater blend of voices, by fluidly passing the melody from one instrument to another, and accompanying it with ‘quasi-contrapuntal’ variations played by the other instruments. In so doing, I am extending the ‘heterophonic’ texture that is characteristic of many Chinese instrumental ensemble pieces (in which musicians double a common melodic line while varying it simultaneously).