About this Recording
8.572838 - CHEN, Yi: Suite for Cello and Chamber Winds / KC Capriccio / Feng / Tu (Enyeart, Texas Tech University Symphonic Wind Ensemble, McKoin)

Chen Yi (b. 1953)
Suite for Cello and Chamber Winds • KC Capriccio • Woodwind Quintet • Tu


Chinese American composer Chen Yi brings a unique compositional voice to the wind ensemble. Wedding the traditions and sounds of the East with those of her adopted West remain a hallmark of Chen’s music and is reflected in this collection of world première recordings from the earliest wind quintet of 1987 to the Suite for Cello and Chamber Winds of 2004.

Most evident in the latter, Chen borrows extensively from folk-tunes, Chinese percussion, stringed, and wind instruments as she seeks to emulate not only the sounds, but also the spirit and festivities with which these instruments are often associated. The Suite for Cello and Chamber Winds was originally titled Sound of the Five and was written in 1998 for Mimi Hwang and the Ying String Quartet following a commission from the Eastman School of Music. In 2004 Chen re-orchestrated the work for chamber winds, seeking to separate the solo cello sound from the string ensemble and settled upon a small chamber wind ensemble in reproducing the sounds and style of the lusheng, set bells and drums, hsiao and chi’in, which are all traditional Chinese instruments.

Chen further describes these instruments and the way they are used in the East.

“The lusheng is an age-old mouth organ with bamboo pipes. Villagers of various minorities in Southwest Asia often play together while dancing in lusheng ensembles to celebrate Spring holidays. The instruments from the lusheng family range from the bass (23 feet long) to the soprano (12 inches) in the ensemble. The lead player performs with the smallest lusheng, dancing in complicated movements around the ensemble, which responds with colourful pentatonic harmonies in the background.

“The history of set bells can be traced back to the pre-Qin period (Shang Dynasty, c. 16th century–11th century B.C.) Made from bronze, every bell produces two tones (played in different positions), which can form a major or minor third, or a major second. Grouped from 3–64 bells as a set, it is a melodic instrument and is played in an orchestra at court.

“The hsiao is a vertical bamboo flute, which carries lyrical melodies through delicate lines, grace notes and silence. The ch’in is a 2000-year old Chinese seven-string zither, which has a rich repertoire in the history of Chinese music and literature. In ch’in performance, it produces various articulations by different fingerings of plucking and vibratos, played by both hands. These two instruments are often played together and produce a good balance for sonority and timbre.

“The Flower Drum has a membrane on both sides. It is also the name of a popular folk-dance in the Han majority. Groups of people play the flower drums hung at their waists in dynamic rhythms while dancing in open fields or in marches to celebrate happy occasions. The gesture is vivid and the sound strong and passionate.”

She goes on to describe the various movements and how the cello interacts with the ensemble: “In the first movement, Lusheng Ensemble, the cello solo plays the lead rôle and the group of winds represent the ensemble. Imagining the bell sound from a distance, the cello and winds are merged together with mysterious harmonics in the second movement, Echoes of the Set Bells. In the third movement, Romance of Hsiao and Ch’in, the cello transmits a lyrical sense to express the composer’s love for humanities, while the wind ensemble, sounding like an enlarged Ch’in, symbolizes nature. The finale, Flower Drums in Dance, comes back to an energetic scene. The rhythmic design is inspired by Chinese traditional percussion ensemble music. Making the drum sound, the wind ensemble accompanies and competes with the solo cello, building up a momentum and leading the music to a lively ending.

This new version was given its première in 2005 by cellist Carter Enyeart, and was conducted by Sarah McKoin.

The exuberant and celebratory KC Capriccio was commissioned by the UMKC Conservatory of Music in 2000 as part of the 150th Anniversary of Kansas City and was inspired by a folk-tune played on a bagpipe that Chen heard on the lawn outside of the Nelson Art Gallery in Kansas City. Additionally, she drew on the “wild singing sound” and spirit of the Asian folk choral music tradition to accompany this tune. The première took place in 2000 in Kansas City, conducted by Sarah McKoin, and the China National Symphony and choir gave the Asian première in 2001 at the Beijing Concert Hall in Beijing, conducted by Robert Olson.

The two woodwind quintets on this recording illustrate different aspects of Chen’s compositional style and are both inspired by different Chinese traditions. The term ‘feng’ refers to the Chinese character which means, “wind” or “the winds”. Other meanings also include “view, folk-songs, style and manner” according to Chen. Written in 1998 and commissioned by the San Francisco Citywinds, Feng seeks to “sound the Eastern feeling of the winds” and is cast in two movements: Introduction and Rondo.

The earlier quintet of 1987, simply titled, Woodwind Quintet, draws on the following for its motivation. “The creative inspiration of my Woodwind Quintet came from the booming tide of Chaoyin Cave in the Putuo Mountain located in Southeastern China; the dull chanting from the Buddhist nunnery; the reciting tunes played on a Xiao, a Chinese traditional woodwind instrument; and the rude, primitive roaring of a Changjian, a Tibetan low-range wind instrument.”

The 1987 première took place at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, with the conductor Efrain Guigui and the Composers Conference Ensemble.

Tu, the angriest and most intense work on this collection, was composed between July and August of 2002 as a reaction to 9/11. Commissioned in 2000 by the Women’s Philharmonic and the American Composers Orchestra with an NEA grant, the work is “dedicated to the memory of NYC firefighters who sacrificed themselves for protecting thousands of fellow citizens at the 9/11 tragedy in 2001, and also to express the composer’s compassion for the victims and their families, to denounce terrorist acts and to call for peace of the future.”

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra, with the conductor Lan Shui, performed the first orchestral recorded version in 2002. The official world première occurred two years later in 2004 with the Women’s Philharmonic and conductor Anne Manson. The wind ensemble version also had its première in 2004 in Kansas City, with the conductor Sarah McKoin. Interestingly, the wind ensemble version has even more intensity than the orchestral version the central section of which has a gripping pedal that is played in octaves by the cellos and basses. In the wind orchestration, Chen uses a double saxophone quartet, which intones a pedal ninth that adds a level of foreboding to the soundscape. It is visceral, loud, dissonant and scary reflecting the meaning of the Chinese character “Tu” which can be related to “burning, poison, or fire.”

Sarah McKoin

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