About this Recording
8.570611 - ZHOU, Long / CHEN, Yi: Symphony, "Humen 1839" / ZHOU, Long: The Rhyme of Taigu / The Enlightened (New Zealand Symphony, Darrell Ang)

Zhou Long (b. 1953)
Symphony ‘Humen 1839’ (with Chen Yi (b. 1953)) • The Rhyme of Taigu • The Enlightened


The Rhyme of Taigu, composed in 2003, was co-commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition (Brigham Young University) and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. The concept of the work derives from an earlier chamber composition by Zhou Long, Taigu Rhyme, for clarinet, violin, cello and three drummers, members of a modern Japanese Taiko ensemble. This commission prompted the composer to consider in greater detail the history of traditional Japanese drumming.

Taigu is the Chinese pronunciation of the Japanese word taiko, meaning ‘fat drum’. Although the tradition of Japanese taiko drumming has existed for many centuries, its origins can be traced back to the taigu tradition that grew out of Buddhist doctrines and courtly ceremonies in China. In Japan, taiko developed into a series of very specific categories and variations of drumming depending on the purpose and context of the performance. These include gagaku (court music); noh and kabuki accompaniment (theatre music); Buddhist and Shinto religious ceremonies; the simple marking of the hours in daily life; and even as a means of communication in battle. Taiko also became an essential part of village life in Japan and was used in farming and fishing rituals to encourage successful harvests, or to appease the spirits of ancestors. Whilst the Japanese tradition thus became very strong, Chinese taigu has scarcely survived: it formed the basis of court music during the Tang dynasty (618–907 AD), but only fragmentary musical sources survive. The Rhyme of Taigu is Zhou Long’s attempt to revivify this ancient art form and capture something of its energy and spirit, by drawing both Chinese and Japanese traditional elements (including a large number of percussion instruments) into a contemporary western orchestral ensemble.

The piece consists of three sections. Beginning with three drummers on the dagu (Chinese bass drums), a slow rhythmic pattern is spelled out beneath a heavy bass line. The texture become increasingly dense, and the strings join the ensemble before the appearance of a solo clarinet prompts the fading of the dagu into the background. New patterns now emerge, each in a faster tempo than the last, building to a climactic closure to the first part of the work. A brief clarinet solo cadenza connects this to the next section, which is inspired by ancient zhihua temple music from Beijing. The winds evoke the sound of the guanzi, a double reed instrument used in the temple ensemble, and they present a singing, improvisational melody whilst the ensemble accompanies in a loose, unspecified tempo. This haunting, almost ritual atmosphere is broken by the arrival of the brass; the music now accelerates into the final section, in which vivid, pulsing rhythms drive the piece on to its conclusion. The Rhyme of Taigu is dedicated to the composer’s wife, Chen Yi, for her 50th birthday in 2003. It was premièred by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lan Shui, on 23 May 2003 in Singapore.

Commissioned by the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra and completed in 2009, Symphony ‘Humen 1839’ is the only collaborative work by Zhou Long and Chen Yi. The Symphony is divided into four movements, and is intended to commemorate the public burning of over 1000 tonnes of opium in June 1839 in Humen, Guangdong. The opium had been seized from British traders, and was piled by the Pearl River and set alight, in an attempt to ban the formidable—and illegal—trading of opium by the British in Qing Dynasty China. The event was to prompt Britain to declare war on China—a conflict now known as the First Opium War (1839–42).

A native of Guangzhou, Chen Yi constructed the first movement, Andante luminoso, from pitch materials drawn from three popular Guangdong melodies: Thunder in a Drought, Dragon Boat Race, and Hungry Horse Rattles. The second movement is entitled Allegro feroce, and uses powerful rhythms and angular intervals to represent the scholar and national hero Lin Zexu (1785–1890), who led the battle against opium smuggling and destroyed so much of the drug at Humen in 1839. The third movement, Adagio tragico, uses long, lyrical, mournful melodies to express the humiliation and indignity of the Chinese people during the war. Finally the fourth movement, Allegro trascinante, reflects the nation’s spirit, and the preservation of national dignity, as the wars were overcome and the country was free once again to develop and grow through history. The pride and power of the Chinese people is evident in the energetic and prominent percussive writing in this finale. The work was premièred on 13 September 2009 by the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Long Yu. It won the First Prize of the Sixteenth Chinese National Composition Competition for Symphonic Works, sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Culture in 2012.

The Enlightened is a companion piece to The Immortal, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, London in July 2004. The Immortal was the first BBC World Service commission in its seventy-year history, and pays tribute to the influence of Chinese artists and intellectuals in the twentieth century. The Enlightened is an expression of contemporary world struggles, and reflects the composer’s belief that through music we can reflect upon our relationships with all people, the planet and the universe. Ancient Chinese philosophy teaches that physical, mental and spiritual well-being can be achieved through harmony and balance in exercise, diet, breathing, meditation and positive mental attitude. The three central principles are thus: Peace, Light and Love.

The Enlightened begins with a pulse-like rhythm in the percussion and low instruments; the strings play cluster-chords and micro-tonal trills whilst the trumpets and horns exchange calls over this texture. The tension builds throughout this opening section—and at last the appearance of a flowing theme in the woodwind dissipates the energy, moving the music into a more peaceful mood. The music of the winds now begins to expand, prompted by the appearance of string harmonics, and gradually develops into a multi-layered, chant-like theme (given the unusual timbres created here, it is worth stressing that the instruments involved are all standard to a western orchestra: flutes, clarinets and oboes). The tempo remains slow and stately: single-note repeated patterns ring out from various percussion instruments whilst the low strings provide a pedal bass. The texture becomes increasingly dense through repetition, leading to another climax, and the harp has a prominent role here.

The middle section commences with a dialogue between the solo wind and percussion, later supported by further string harmonics. This is punctuated with sharp, sforzando chords from the percussion and later, the low strings join with a quaver pattern reminiscent of chanting. The music now builds, the tempo quickening whilst the meters become irregular. Finally the closing section returns the music to the mysterious atmosphere of the work’s opening.

The Enlightened was commissioned by the Kansas City Symphony, and premièred by that orchestra, under the direction of Michael Stern, in Kansas City on 30 September 2005.

Zhou Long, edited by Katy Hamilton

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