Sunday, June 19, 2011

Shanghai, China March 1-June 19 Week 13

This was a quite busy week. I finally finished up my duet for Yoko Kimura and Hikaru Tamaki, and after consulting with Yoko, I entitled it Frolicking with the Birds (鳥と戯れて). Trust me! The title is much more poetic in Japanese than in English! The gestation period for this piece took a while, but once I really started to dig in it came quite quickly. As usual, once I got past about 30-40% of the piece–in terms of performance duration–it practically composed itself. Yoko listened to the MIDI recording and seemed to enjoy it. It’s a quite exciting piece, with extensive use of mixed meter, which imparts a bouncy, playful character above expressive, soaring cello lines. I finished it on May 24th and sent it off the same day via email.

With this piece out of the way, I prepared for my lecture at Shanghai Conservatory of Music, which was given on Wednesday, May 25th. I entitled the talk Cross-Cultural Approaches to Composition (作曲的跨文化取徑), mainly to attract a wider audience. The lecture really focused on my works for Japanese instruments, but Chen Chunyuan thought it would be better to choose a title that left out reference to Japan! There were a number of students there who were likely required to be there, but never the less it was well-attended and everyone was quiet and attentive. I enjoyed preparing for this lecture because it gave me a an opportunity to improve upon the presentations I gave at Taiwan University of Fine Arts and Music last month. I used Garage Band to edit my recordings and prepare excerpts of Voyage (2008) and even managed to paste the score of the entire third movement of Shakuhachi Concerto No. 1: “Southern Wind” (2008) into Keynote (50+ pages!) There weren’t any question at the end but a number of people came up afterwards and commented how much they enjoyed the music. I really worked the timing out for this presentation well. Even with the Chinese translation, I still found time to play recordings of six pieces, plus a live performance of Forest Whispers...(2008) for violoncello and shakuhachi. 

With the lecture out of the way, I spent the rest of the week working on a trio for DEN3, lead by shakuhachi performer Shôzan Tanabe. The weather over the weekend was just beautiful, and after yoga on both days I was tempted to enjoy city life. On Sunday I enjoyed my first experience of live jazz in Shanghai at JZ Club. They had a house latin band playing that night. They were quite good but the sound engineer could have done a better job at reducing the sharpness of the high range. It was simply too tinny and thin. When I arrived it was just past 10:00PM. Premium seats carry a minimum 500RMB in drinks and food, which is fine if you’re with a group. Seats off to the side have no minimum, and that’s where I sat. By 11:30PM the place was absolutely packed and although there was no smoking on the main floor, the air quality decreased noticeably, so I sat for one more tune performed by an incredibly loud brass ensemble and then walked home. What a neighborhood I live in! I rented a bike on Sunday, treated myself to a sandlewood aromatherapy massage at Zen Massage, then went to Anfu Rd. again, this time enjoying brunch at Settebello. The interior was quite refined and classy, with these majestic curtains and Victorian art adorning the walls. I ordered a ham omelette and fresh pear juice. The pear juice took forever to prepare so the owner didn’t charge me for it. In the late afternoon, I took a walk around People’s Park and up Fuzou Rd. to the Bund where a brilliant sunset greeted me. 
As of Sunday, I hadn’t reached that 30% mark for the DEN3 commission, but on Monday I really  pushed hard to at least composed to the beginning of the slow middle section. Once I reached that point, the rest of the piece came in just a couple of hours. I finished the piece on Tuesday, May 31st and sent it off to Mr. Tanabe with the parts, score, and MIDI recording. This piece, entitled Summer Dances (夏の舞)will be premiered in Tokyo on July 2nd. Like the duet I composed last week, it is quite lively, with extensive use of mixed meter and an infectious theme that seems to find its way into every nook and cranny. If anything, I could criticize myself for not developing the theme more in a various of contrasting contexts. The first five minutes of the piece are a non-stop whirlwind of energy in a driving allegro tempo, followed by a brief pastoral section and a recapitulation. A brief coda juxtaposes previously heard material as the piece races to a fiery finish. I’m not sure that this is one of my stronger pieces, but I have a feeling that the ensemble will embrace it. It’s the perfect length–just over eight minutes–and shouldn’t be so difficult to put together. It’s a crowd pleaser too, and written quite idiomatically for the instruments.

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