About this Recording
8.573009 - FUNG, Vivian: Piano Concerto, "Dreamscapes" / Violin Concerto / Glimpses (Kristin Lee, Hanick, Metropolis Ensemble, Cyr)
English  French 

Vivian Fung (b. 1975)
Violin Concerto • Glimpses • Piano Concerto ‘Dreamscapes’


Although music has often been described as a universal language, the way that it has been created, performed, and appreciated throughout history has been largely determined by geography, ethnicity, and social status. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, however, owing to large-scale immigration, the dissemination of sound recordings, and, most recently, the internet, the boundaries between music made by different people in the world have become extremely porous. The present Canadian Classics recording devoted to the music of Vivian Fung is indicative of this transformation. Though Fung was born in Edmonton in 1975, her parents are Chinese émigrés born in Vietnam and married in then-British Hong Kong, and she now lives in New York City. The three pieces of music on this recording, violin and piano concertos and the solo keyboard Glimpses (all composed within the past six years), are works deeply influenced by the gamelan music of Bali, Indonesia, but performed on instruments that have their origins in Europe. In Glimpses, as well as in parts of the Piano Concerto, the piano has been “prepared” to change its sound, a technique developed by the American composer John Cage (1912–1992); and gamelan-influenced music scored for a Western orchestra was promulgated by composer Colin McPhee (1900–1964), a fellow Canadian. So Vivian Fung’s own music is clearly indebted to traditions spanning her native and adopted countries as well as Europe and Asia. Yet in her seamless tying together of these disparate musical strands, she has forged a unique compositional voice that is very much indicative of our own multicultural time.

Vivian Fung’s personal identity is as deeply layered as her music. Though her parents are Chinese, her central Canadian upbringing offered her scant contact with others who shared her ethnicity. The cultural milieu in which she immersed herself and excelled was Western classical music; her training culminated in a doctorate in composition from one of the world’s most prestigious conservatories, The Juilliard School. While her initial paucity of exposure to Chinese heritage was something she came to think of as a deficit, rediscovering Chinese traditional music inspired her Pizzicato (2001), recorded by the Ying Quartet, as well as her 2010–11 vocal composition Yunnan Folk Songs, given its première by Chicago’s Fulcrum Point New Music Project. It also led her to explore other Asian music, in particular music from Vietnam and the Indonesian islands Java and Bali. She has performed with Javanese and Balinese gamelan groups based in New York City and has also made several trips to Indonesia to study this music first hand. These experiences have left an indelible imprint on many of her compositions, including the three featured on the present recording.

There is a clear arc connecting these three works. Although the Violin Concerto (2010–11) is one of Fung’s most recent compositions, its genesis dates back to the première of her 2009 Piano Concerto, the first of her compositions to be commissioned and given its première by Metropolis Ensemble. For that performance, violinist Kristin Lee served as the concertmaster and at the time expressed interest in having Fung compose a concerto for her. In 2010, Lee accompanied Fung on a trip to Bali to gain a deeper understanding of the music that was so central to Fung’s compositional vocabulary. The intensely lyrical concerto that Fung ultimately composed for Lee shortly after their return directly resulted from that shared experience. The Violin Concerto is presented in one continuous movement with clearly audible boundaries between its various sections. The concerto begins serenely, the violin soloist hovering rhapsodically over bird-like sonorities in the strings. The next section is fast and propulsive, with the soloist still in the foreground, its initial rhythmic restlessness eventually settling into a thirteen-beat groove. This is soon followed by a less rhythmically driven passage dominated by ghost-like harmonics. This leads into another fast section filled with virtuoso violin pyrotechnics that eventually burst into a fiery, unaccompanied cadenza. Before the return of the orchestra, the violin soars to an extraordinary high note to which Fung affixes the instruction, “Play like a rock star.” What then ensues is perhaps the most harmonically dense passage of the entire composition; various tonalities collide as they vie for the listener’s attention. Amidst this polytonality, the violin soloist quotes a very famous Javanese folk-song that often opens gamelan performances, Puspawarna (Javanese for “kinds of flowers”), interrupted by various sections in the orchestra that reinvent this folk-song in very un-Javanese ways. Ultimately, however, the concerto returns to its initial tranquility, ending in much the same way as it began.

Glimpses (2006), the earliest of the three works, is a set of three miniatures scored for a “prepared piano,” a piano whose timbre has been altered as a result of attaching various objects to its strings. In Kotekan metal binder clips, mini plastic hairclips, Scotch-taped popsicle sticks, and a metal bar are placed on various strings, altering the pitch and timbre of a chain of gamelan-inspired interlocking ostinatos played on the piano keys. In Snow, the ostinatos frequently become untangled, exposing single lines, frequently in the upper register. Herein the string timbres are altered by plastic clothes pins, sticky paper, and, again, a metal bar. Chant requires a broad range of techniques. In addition to striking the prepared strings with the piano keys, the pianist must also pull a rosined piece of twine that has been tied to a piano string to produce a deep drone, pluck the strings inside the piano (with and without a guitar pick or a rubber wedge), and drop a porcelain bowl directly onto the strings. The resultant sounds are often eerie and otherworldly.

Like the Violin Concerto, the Piano Concerto (2009), subtitled “Dreamscapes,” also begins quietly and is parsed as a single continuous movement with clearly delineated sections, in this case a prologue, four vignettes, and a postlude. The prologue opens with the pianist plucking a melody directly on the strings with a plectrum to the accompaniment of a pair of slit drums and seven Vietnamese bird whistles blown into by the wind players who are spatially scattered. (In live performance, the players are situated in various locations in the audience.) The drums and whistles are soon joined by the strings, as the pianist returns to the keys and the wind players begin to play standard orchestral instruments. The first vignette begins with a series of brutal, Bartókian chords played on the piano keys in an off-kilter, five-beat rhythm. The other instruments join in, creating a dense, contrapuntal web. The second vignette is an expansion of Kotekan (the first movement of Glimpses); additional orchestral layers, playing both with and against the continuous piano ostinatos, create an almost jazzy feel. The third vignette, in contrast, is much dreamier. It opens with the pianist again plucking the strings inside the piano against fluttering in the winds and a series of breezy sounds produced by whispering nonsense syllables into the mouthpieces of the instruments. At one point toward this section’s conclusion, the wind players stop breathing into their instruments altogether and the only sound they produce is a faint clicking made by fingering patterns on the keys of their instruments. The fourth vignette begins with a relentless cascade on the piano keys. The orchestra joins in, equally frenetic, only subsiding when the pianist forcefully attacks the keys in a series of two-handed glissandi down the full length of the keyboard. A muscular, unaccompanied solo cadenza follows, in which the pianist reiterates the various motives that have been introduced throughout the concerto. The brief concluding postlude returns to a relative calm. At the very end, all the musicians in the orchestra put down their instruments and pick up wine glasses, rubbing their rims to yield haunting, sustained pitches as the pianist plays a series of ascending figurations.

Frank J. Oteri

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