About this Recording
8.570620 - QIN, Wenchen: Border of the Mountains (The) / Dawn / Calling for Phoenix (Mengla Huang, Li-Wei Qin, Qianyuan Zhang, Vienna Radio Symphony, Rabl)
English  German 

Wenchen Qin (b. 1966)
The Border of the Mountains • Dawn • Calling for Phoenix


Wenchen Qin (b. 1966) is a composer and teacher in Beijing, where he is a professor of composition at the Central Conservatory of Music, and a distinguished professor at the China Conservatory of Music.

Qin was born in 1966 in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, and became familiar with the folk music of his home while still very young. In 1987 he went to study composition at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, where his tutors included Jian-er Zhu (b. 1922) and Shuya Xu (b. 1961). He joined the staff of the Central Conservatory in Beijing in 1992 and, between 1998 and 2001, studied with Nicolaus A. Huber in Essen, Germany, thanks to the sponsorship of the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD).

Qin is one of China’s most influential composers, and has written commissions for many international music organisations, including the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Beethovenfest Bonn, and the Warsaw Autumn, Bayerischer Rundfunk and Shanghai Spring International Music Festivals. His works have been widely performed by more than seventy well-known musical groups in China and further afield, including Ensemble Intercontemporain and L’Itinéraire in France, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and ensemble recherche in Germany, the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Ensemble Europeo Antidogma in Italy, the Tokyo City Symphony Orchestra, the St Petersburg Philharmonic, the Nieuw Ensemble Holland, the Ensemble Phoenix Basel, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the Contemporary Music Ensemble Korea (CMEK), and Sinfonia Varsovia in Poland. His music has been broadcast on major radio stations in Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland, including North German Radio (NDR), West German Radio (WDR), Radio France, Swiss Radio, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) and ORFRadio Wien.

Qin is the recipient of seven awards at international composition competitions in Germany, the USA, Japan and Taiwan. His major compositions include Yin Ji (2001) and Pilgrimage in May (2004) for orchestra; Nature’s Dialogue (2010) for tape and orchestra; the suona concerto Calling for Phoenix (1996), the violin concerto The Border of the Mountains (2012), Echo from the Other Shore (2015) for guzheng and orchestra, and chamber music works including Lonely Song (1990/2015), He-Yi (1998/1999), Huai Sha (1999), Five Songs on the Horizon (2005), The Sun Shadow (1987–) series and the Sounds that Awake Memories (2006–) series, as well as his second string quartet Wind Lament (2013) and Towards a Far Place, 30 pieces of chamber music for Chinese instruments (2010/2011). His music is published exclusively by Sikorski Musikverlag, Hamburg.

The violin concerto The Border of the Mountains was completed in 2012, and was commissioned by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music for its 85th anniversary. We begin with a long antiphonal passage, the solo violin pitted against the orchestral strings playing high in their registers: Qin’s exaggerated depiction of songs sung between Chinese people in the mountains, almost like hoarse shouting as the lines bounce off against each other and occasionally intertwine. The malleable sonic nature of string instruments is constantly exploited, sliding up and down between pitches and pressing semitones and even quartertones closely together within the ensemble writing. As the movement progresses, the forceful rhythms of speech-like patterns from the whole orchestra are contrasted with passages in which the pulse seems suspended, the strings and soloist holding the line as if in space. The second movement makes use of a short segment of Shanxi folk song, the writing more lyrical and almost religious in character. The song itself, Couples are happy together, but you are not here, is the story of a woman alone among married friends, since her husband has had to travel far away to find work. Qin exploits an extraordinary array of colours in the solo violin: simple open intervals, bowed and plucked lines together, sudden jumps and leaps through the register, and the sometimes glassy, sometimes whistling tones of harmonics. The orchestra provides support to this line, chattering below, or briefly seizing control of the music in short outbursts before leaving the soloist alone altogether. Finally we reach the third movement, Dancing in Mountain Shadow, which has a strong rhythmic impetus and more prominent rôle for percussion (including the percussive effect of col legno from the strings). After the highly lyrical character of much of the earlier two movements, here the music is driven forwards with little rhythmic cells, full of energy. The ensemble builds to a long-held, ecstatic chord over which the soloist recalls the singing lines of the work’s opening; eventually, this fades away until just the high winds are left, calling like birds into the silence.

The cello concerto Dawn (2008) consists of three movements, each of which is based on a fragment of poetry by Hai Zi (1964–1989), one of the most famous poets in mainland China in the 1980s. However, Qin’s music is not intended to depict or ‘explain’ the poetry, but rather to function as a counterpoint to Hai Zi’s words. Thus, whilst certain musical devices appear to reflect aspects of the poetic scenes (the stillness of the very opening; birds chirruping in winds and strings through the first movement; a striking contrast between frenzied activity and total stillness in the second movement as if the music is seen from ‘near... and yet... so far away’), there are also moments of high contrast and vibrant orchestral colours that find no direct parallels in the text, but seem to complement the images depicted.

Which chariot will carry you to a distant land?
It is so far away that you’d never return.
Oh, which is the chariot?

There goes the sun’s music, and the sun’s horse;
So near you are seated, and yet you are so far away.

Like a sea rising to the sky,
And like Pegasus wild and unbridled,
It sweeps across toward the river.

The suona concerto Calling for Phoenix (2010) is an orchestral adaptation of a work written by Qin in 1996 for traditional Chinese instruments. The suona is a small double-reed instrument a little like a shawm, traditionally used in music for public occasions such as wedding and funeral processions; similarly, it is employed in Chinese opera to mark significant events or the arrival of important characters. This seems entirely appropriate given the subject matter of the piece: the phoenix is a symbol of virtue, grace, loyalty and honesty in Chinese legend, the perfect balance of Yin and Yang. Qin was inspired to compose Calling for Phoenix after viewing the painting series Phoenix in Fire by Xiao-he Tang and Li Cheng, and being struck in particular by the vitality and spiritual richness of the images. The piece falls into three parts: a highly rhythmical and energetic central section framed by an almost chamber-like opening and a slower, deeply emotive final section. This mirrors the story of the phoenix, who was born and grew up in the dark, matured through a baptism of fire, and finally flew to the sun. The suona writing is intensely virtuosic, featuring rapid passagework, flutter-tonguing and lightning-quick leaps through the instrument’s compass: all of which are also characteristic of Qin’s writing for the solo violin and cello in the other concertos featured on this recording. Calling for Phoenix is intended to represent the determination of the natural world to create and perpetuate life against all odds and in the most difficult circumstances.

Wenchen Qin

Edited by Katy Hamilton

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