Project Description

Music Interflow: A Dialogue of Two Cultures

Venue: St John’s Smith Square, London
Date: 7 July, 2017 (Friday) 7:30PM
An associated project of .

Opening Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC)’s Hong Kong Music Series in London, an accredited event celebrating the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), is a concert organised by Musica Viva.

The theme of Music Interflow – a Dialogue of Two Cultures emphasises the complementary and contrasting nature of the repertoire, which represents both Chinese and British cultural heritage. It brings together both well-established and also emerging talents from Hong Kong’s musicians.

This brilliant display of virtuosity offers a selection of classical and contemporary works written for ancient and traditional Chinese instruments, including both British and Hong Kong pieces, performed by highly accomplished and cross-cultural musicians versed in both eastern and western traditions. The concert ends with an ensemble work inspired by the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Musica Viva, a music organisation supported by the HKADC under its grants award system, curates a perfect introduction to Hong Kong Music Series, which also marks the close relationship between Hong Kong and British citizens.

Programme

Chinese instrumental trio
Dizi Solo: Three Contrasting Pieces

Lui Man-shing: Awakening Lion
Lui Man-shing: Stepping High
Chan Man-tat: Surging Storm
Hou Siu-cheong, Dizi Xu Lingzi, Guzheng Chan Pik-sum, Gaohu

Lui Man-shing (1898-1981) was a prolific master of music of the Guangdong province. The Awakening Lion is a march-like piece with a fast-paced, masculine and imposing melody written in 1931, when China was being invaded by foreign powers and the Chinese nation was being derided as a “sleeping lion”. Lui composed this march to rouse the spirit of his compatriots, to encourage them to join in the resistance, and to declare to the world: ‘The lion has awakened!’

Composed in 1932, Stepping High is propelled by a clear and bright rhythm and moves with a vivid melody, strongly suggestive of forward progress. The melody unfolds with a stepwise progression signifying step-by-step advancement. Lui Man-shing originally wrote this piece in quadruple time. In the early 1950s, conductor Peng Xiuwen rearranged it into dance music in duple time.

Chan Man-tat (1906-1982) composed Surging Storm in 1936, at a time when China was faced with foreign invasions from the northeast. Having a nationalistic background with a strong patriotic character, the composer used this work as a means to inspire the Chinese people to stay firm in extremely turbulent political times, to overcome difficulties, and to move forward with steadfastness. The music has sharp rises and falls and promotes a sense of strength and pride.

Yehu Solo

Tsui Wai-lam: Tolling from a Buddhist Temple
Chan Pik-sum, Yehu Xu Lingzi, Guzheng Ho Siu-cheong, Dizi

Tolling from a Buddhist Temple by Tsui Wai-lam (1911-1975) was written in 1939, based on an ancient piece originally intended for performance on the dongxiao, a vertical flute made of bamboo. Inspired by the sound of a tolling bell from a Zen monastery at Yung Shue Tau in Kowloon, the music depicts a feeling of emptiness, solitude, and the disillusions of life that resonate with the tolling of the temple bell. The piece brings to the listener a detached and meditative sentiment, at the same time conveying a sense of grief tinged with sadness and anger.

Doming Lam: Chinese Songs – Three Nocturnal Lyrics of Li Bai, Op.6

I. In the Quiet Night
II. Drinking Alone with the Moon
III. Ballad of an Autumn Midnight
Colette Lam, Soprano Alexander Wong, Piano

Born in Lowestoft in Eastern England in 1913, Benjamin Britten began piano lessons at the age of eight. At eleven, he heard a performance of Frank Bridge’s The Sea at Norwich and was ‘knocked sideways’. He was later able to study composition with Bridge and, after studies at the Royal College of Music, went on to develop a highly successful career as a composer. His founding and direction of the Aldeburg Festival, with tenor Peter Pears, continues to have considerable influence on British music.

Mother Comfort, with words by Montagu Slater (1902-1956), is No 1 of Two Ballads for two voices and piano written in 1936. Only a year earlier, Britten had started writing film music for the GPO film unit. The poem reflects on the relationships and interactions of lovers. Britten’s autumnal music is an admirable reflection of the mood.

Underneath the Abject Willow is No. 6 from Fish in the Unruffled Lakes was also written in 1936. The text is by W. H. Auden, who, having met Britten a year earlier, dedicated this poem to him. Britten wrote about it in his diary on 17 November 1936, describing it as ‘very light & Victorian in mood’. Britten’s music reflects this in the lively close-harmony opening, followed by a lyrical slow section with imitated phrases in the voices. The liveliness and close-harmony of the opening returns to make a witty ending.

‘A Cradle Song’ is one of William Blake’s (1757-1827) poems from Songs of Innocence (1789). Britten included it in his cycle of five songs, A Charm of Lullabies (1947). It was written for, and first performed by Nancy Evans in January 1948. One of many Blake settings by Britten, it describes the mother’s love for her child, seeing the image of Jesus in her child’s face as he sleeps. Britten’s setting has a gentle contrapuntal line weaving between the voice part.

Guzheng Solo

Lou Shu-hua: Fisherman’s Song at Dusk
Clarence Mak: Meditation on Mount Jingting
Xu Lingzi, Guzheng

Inspired by a famous lyrical text of 7th century poet Wang Bo of the Tang dynasty, Fisherman’s Song at Dusk is one of the best-known works published by the guzheng virtuoso Lou Shu-hua (1907-1952). The piece describes the beautiful scene of the sunset in which a fisherman rows his boat home with a good catch. He happily sings of his satisfaction with a simple life. The music is formed of three sections: first, a slow and soft introduction with a flowing melody; second, the fisherman’s joyful song which he sings freely while rowing merrily home; and third, a vivid description of the movement of oars and splashing of waves. The piece concludes softly, bringing the scene of the lakeside to a state of tranquility.

Clarence Mak was born in Hong Kong. He received his music training in composition and electronic music in Hong Kong, USA, and Spain. He composes music for orchestras, drama, dance, electronic and multi-media and has been commissioned by numerous international and local professional performing groups of Chinese and Western music. Mak actively takes part in professional services, promoting music making and related educational activities, being the key-note speaker, advisor, committee member, delegate, member of Jury, and producer of projects for international symposiums and festivals. Clarence is currently the Head of Composition and Electronic Music at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

Meditation on Mount Jingting is a recent work of Professor Clarence Mak Wai-chu, Head of Composition and Electronic Music, The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, who wrote it specifically for performance on the guzheng. The piece was conceived as an artistic expression of the composer’s appreciation of the beauty of nature in which a balance between motion and stillness is achieved. It is also presented as an expression of an attitude towards life. Mount Jingting is seen as a symbol of eternal presence, which remains undisturbed by the clouds floating up its slopes and then disappearing without a trace.

Benjamin Britten: Three Vocal Duets
A Cradle Song
Mother Comfort
Underneath the Abject Willow
Colette Lam, Soprano Carol Lin, Mezzo-soprano Alexander Wong, Piano
Born in Lowestoft in Eastern England in 1913, Benjamin Britten began piano lessons at the age of eight. At eleven, he heard a performance of Frank Bridge’s The Sea at Norwich and was ‘knocked sideways’. He was later able to study composition with Bridge and, after studies at the Royal College of Music, went on to develop a highly successful career as a composer. His founding and direction of the Aldeburg Festival, with tenor Peter Pears, continues to have considerable influence on British music.

‘A Cradle Song’ is one of William Blake’s (1757-1827) poems from Songs of Innocence (1789). Britten included it in his cycle of five songs, A Charm of Lullabies (1947). It was written for, and first performed by Nancy Evans in January 1948. One of many Blake settings by Britten, it describes the mother’s love for her child, seeing the image of Jesus in her child’s face as he sleeps. Britten’s setting has a gentle contrapuntal line weaving between the voice part.

Mother Comfort, with words by Montagu Slater (1902-1956), is No 1 of Two Ballads for two voices and piano written in 1936. Only a year earlier, Britten had started writing film music for the GPO film unit. The poem reflects on the relationships and interactions of lovers. Britten’s autumnal music is an admirable reflection of the mood.

Underneath the Abject Willow is No. 6 from Fish in the Unruffled Lakes was also written in 1936. The text is by W. H. Auden, who, having met Britten a year earlier, dedicated this poem to him. Britten wrote about it in his diary on 17 November 1936, describing it as ‘very light & Victorian in mood’. Britten’s music reflects this in the lively close-harmony opening, followed by a lyrical slow section with imitated phrases in the voices. The liveliness and close-harmony of the opening returns to make a witty ending.

Tsui Mei-ling: Two Pieces from Six Miniature Pieces of Yin and Yang for Two Pianos

I. Water
II. Fire
III. Earth
IV. Air
V. Dark
VI. Light
Nancy Loo & Mary Wu, Piano Duo

Born in 1993 in Almaty, Kazakstan and raised in Hong Kong, Tsui Mei-ling is a young award-winning composer and pianist whose multi-cultural background inspires her to organically blend Chinese, Eurasian and Western elements in her music. Tsui earned her Bachelor of Arts in Music with First Class Honours from the Chinese University of Hong Kong under the Hong Kong Jockey Club Scholarship and Master of Music in Composition with Distinction from King’s College London under the Hong Kong Scholarship for Excellence Scheme. Tsui is also recipient of Renaissance College Hong Kong Music Scholarship, AIG Hong Kong Scholarship, Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong Scholarship, and C.F. Hu Postgraduate Memorial Scholarship. Tsui notable mentors and composition teachers include Prof. Lo Kingman, Prof. Silvina Milstein, Prof. Victor Chan, Prof. Wendy Lee and Dr. Lo Hau-Man. She has studied piano with her mother, Dr. Rashida Yanchinova and Ms. Nancy Loo. Her works have been performed by Hong Kong New

Music Ensemble, Romer String Quartet, Windpipe Chinese Music Ensemble, Lontano Ensemble, Ivory Duo Piano Ensemble and broadcast by the London Arts radio “Resonance Fm.” In the 2016-2017 season, Tsui has been invited to the Asian Composers League Festival in Hanoi and Asia-Europe New Music Festival in Kazan, Russia.

Inspired by Taoist philosophy and its concept of dualities Yin and Yang (陰陽), the suite is an investigation of the various compositional methods used in creating striking contrasts between opposing elements within three dualities: water and fire; earth and air; dark and light. The work is also an exploration of the descriptive abilities of the piano and the composer’s experimentation with timbre, colour, register, texture, dynamics, and pedalling in creating this set of highly contrasting mini-pieces.

I. ‘Water’: Rapid staccato repetitions of the same note in the high register enhanced by the grace notes and melodic leaps describe water-drops and playfulness of water. It evolves into whirling passages towards the end where the pulse becomes more fluid and the atmosphere more lyrical.

II. ‘Fire’: Strong chords and boisterous glissandos of wildfire reconstruct into rapid repetition and doubling of the staccato notes of cracking fire, which evolves into the smoke of ascending and descending linear passages over sonorous chords. At last, the fading flames of the contrary-motion rapid triplets vanish into thin air.

Gustav Holst: Two Movements from The Planets
(Original Version for Two Pianos)

II. Venus, the bringer of peace
IV. Jupiter, the bringer of jollity
Nancy Loo & Mary Wu, Piano Duo

Coming from a musical and artistic family, Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was taught piano by his father, a pianist and organist. While still at school, he began composing and conducting choirs in and around Cheltenham. Neuritis in his right arm made a career as a pianist impossible and he concentrated on composition, studying with Stanford at the RCM from 1893. He paid his living expenses by playing trombone, his second study, with various orchestras and bands. He began full-time school teaching, and was appointed to St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith in 1905. This remained his main employment for the rest of his life.

The Planets was inspired by conversations with Clifford Bax around 1913 on the astrological characteristics attributed to the various planets since ancient times. The individual movements were composed between 1914 and 1916. Holst habitually drafted the music for two pianos and his assistant teachers, Vally Lasker and Nora Day helped play through the music and prepare the full score. The Planets was given a private performance by the LSO under Adrian Boult in 1920 and the score was published a year later with a dedication to Holst’s daughter, Imogen. The movements were published separately in Holst’s own arrangement for 2 pianos in 1949. These were republished as a complete set in 1979.

‘Mars’ sets a pulsating bass in 5/4 time in piano II to establish the ominous, disturbing power of war. A slow melody with a rising 5th and falling semitone in piano I add to the mood and become increasingly discordant against the driving ostinato. A

change of bass introduces parallel chromatic chords, giving a wailing effect. The ostinato becomes more varied as new fanfares add to the melee. The wailing theme returns and brings back the opening pulsating figure with full power. All the main themes contribute to a terrifying climax, marked ‘ffff’, ending with brutal, stabbing arhythmic chords.

Activity in a more joyful, bucolic mood heralds the opening of ‘Jupiter’. The theme is syncopated and heavy-sounding. A more robust theme follows as the activity develops with contrasting figures including a very festive celebratory theme in triple time. This develops with increased complexity, finally arriving at the tune to which Holst, in 1921, set the patriotic words of Sir Cecil Spring Rice as the hymn ‘I vow to thee my country’. Beginning rather simply, the tune gradually gains in grandeur, reaching its climax in full octave chords. The opening material returns to complete the celebration with unbridled brilliance.

Frank Bridge: String Quartet – Three Idylls

I. Adagio Molto Espressivo
II. Allegretto Poco Lento
III. Allegro Con Moto
Yang Zheng, Violin Wei Ning-yi, Violin Chris Choi, Viola Xu Ting, Cello

Frank Bridge (1879-1941) studied violin and composition at RCM, where he won a scholarship to study with Stanford for four years. He established a career as a violist, chamber player and conductor, frequently conducting at the Henry Wood Promenade concerts. In 1923 he toured America conducting concerts of his own works. He also taught, but his only composition student was Benjamin Britten,

The Three Idylls were written in 1906, the same year in which he wrote the Phantasie Quartet in F minor, often considered a seminal piece in Bridge’s output. The Idylls reveal the poetic nature of his early style, with fine, clear contrapuntal lines.

In the first, Adagio molto espressivo, the viola opens with a short ascending phrase, later accompanied by dark, sustained chords. The first violin takes over and moves the music to its first points of climax and repose. String tremolos in the central section make the music more assertive and active before the expanded opening materials return to a dark ending.

The Allegretto poco lento has a gentle, dreamy effect at the opening. Stronger, shorter notes make an interesting contrast but the opening dreamy music soon returns and gradually relaxes, helped with two separate silent bars near the end.

A strong cello figure give the Allegro con moto an assertive opening. An ostinato-like bass figure accompanies lighter, dancing music as shorter figures grow in intensity. The music increases in speed and develops. A full-sounding allargando allows the opening cello figure to build to the final ascent to the dramatic cadence chords.

Ottorino Respighi: Cantata for Mezzo-soprano & String Quartet – Il Tramonto
(set to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, ‘The Sunset’)

Carol Lin, Mezzo-soprano Yang Zheng, Violin Wei Ning-yi, Violin Chris Choi, Viola Xu Ting, Cello

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) studied at the Liceo Musicale, Bologna between the years 1891 and 1901. He visited Russia in 1902-3 and had lessons with Rimsky-Korsakov. Returning to Italy, he developed an active career as a string player and pianist. He settled in Rome in 1913 as professor of composition at the Liceo di S. Cecilia, becoming Director in 1924. However, he resigned after two years to concentrate on composition. He is best known for his colourful orchestrations in pieces describing various aspects of Rome.

Il Tramonte is an Italian translation of Shelly’s (1792-1822) poem The Sunset by Roberto Ascoli. It was set by Respighi in 1914, just after he had settled in Rome. It is the third of three settings of verses by Shelly for mezzo, the other two requiring full orchestra. It was inspired by and dedicated to Signora Chiarina Fina Savio, a close friend with a fine mezzo voice. With an accompaniment for string quartet or string orchestra, it was published by Ricordi in 1918.

The poem describes Isabel and her lover walking in the shady woods not noticing the growing darkness as the sun sets. By morning Isabel’s lover has died by her side. Isabel, grieving, lived on to devote her life to good works and the memory of that last sunset with her lover.

Respighi opens the music with a dramatic descending phrase leading to a recitative for the voice with sustained chords in the strings. A pulsating Allegro moderato with a section of the opening descending phrase in the cello, passing to the voice describing the joy of love. A new Andante section is more lyrical with triplets in the strings and a passage for strings alone developing the ecstatic mood. The following dolce ‘Il giovin e la dama’ gradually rises to a dramatic climax as the tragic discovery is portrayed, before subsiding to a recitative describing the stricken Isabel. The final section uses material from the opening to describe her suffering, resignation and descent into her own eventual peace.
Programme notes provided by Michael Ryan, Tsui Mei-ling, and Lo Kingman.

Artists

Programme Note

Please refer to the notes embedded in “Programme”.