About this Recording
9.70186 - GAO, Ping: Piano Quintet, "Mei, Lan, Zhu, Ju" / The Mountain / 12-Hour Bridge (Gao Ping, Kreisler String Quartet, Brönnimann, J.-P. Vivier, Conter)

Gao Ping (b. 1970)
The Mountain • Little Song • Questioning the Mountain • 12-Hour Bridge • Piano Quintet ‘Mei, Lan, Zhu, Ju’ • Perhaps – Song of Burial


The Mountain (2004)

In summer 2003, I was asked by Frederic Rzewski and Ursula Oppens to write a piece for them to perform as a duo. The composition began in Cincinnati and was completed in Christchurch, New Zealand in October 2004. During this time, I reread Gao Xingjian’s novel Soul Mountain. It was this experience which brought me new ideas, stemming unexpectedly from memories of my native home. Sichuan, in China, is a place rich in folklore and colourful cuisine. The dialect of Sichuan is my mother tongue, its melodic inflection full of expressivity and humour. The melodic style in The Mountain is intrinsically connected to the sound of this spoken language.

In Gao Xingjian’s novel, folk-tale and shamanistic ritual play a vital part in the largely stream-of-consciousness narrative. It triggered my imagination and stirred up deeply buried memories. I began to hear sounds that I could not otherwise hear. Certain images also emerged—seeing peasants carrying heavy loads of rice and vegetables on steep mountain paths. I associate this particular imagery with the Passacaglia in the centre of the composition. The mood of The Mountain is nostalgic, though drama is certainly not excluded.

I dedicate the work to Frederic Rzewski and Ursula Oppens. Frederic and I gave the first performance in the Music ’05 Festival, Cincinnati. Subsequently, it was performed in San Francisco by the dedicatees of the work.

Little Song (2008)

As the title suggests, this short piece, Little Song, expresses itself simply and tenderly. The violin melody is much like a folk-song, while the gently rocking piano accompaniment creates a misty atmosphere. I had in mind the refreshing mountain air of Sichuan while writing it.

Questioning the Mountain (2008)

Questioning the Mountain was commissioned by Japanese violinist Rieko Suzuki with whom I enjoyed a duo partnership for several years. The work was written in June, 2008, immediately after the devastating earthquake in my home region of Sichuan. The piece is a meditation on the tragic event and a nostalgic offering to my motherland. Its slow, procession-like unfolding suggests some kind of ritual, one that is at once sombre and graceful. A fragment from the Sichuan folk-song On the High Mountains becomes a recurring motive, like an unanswered question, which at the end transforms into a repeating bass line that gives the foundation to a flourishing melisma in the high register of the piano.

Questioning the Mountain and Little Song were given their premières by Jun Bouterey-Ishido on violin and the composer on piano in a fund-raising concert for Sichuan at Te Papa Museum in Wellington in 2008.

Twelve-Hour Bridge (2004)

Twelve-Hour Bridge was completed during my residency at the MacDowell Colony for Artists in New Hampshire USA. The work has a fantasy-like quality in the sense that I imagined and created an illusionary bridge in music which erases the vast distance between China and USA (where I was then a resident). The simple fact of the twelve-hour time difference between the two places sneaked into not only the title, but also the structure of the piece.

The work is in a three-fold form. The contrasting outer parts are opposites in style, energy and atmosphere, each being a series of variations on a six-note theme, while the short and quietly mysterious interlude (starting from track 5) in between functions as the “bridge” where the two different worlds meet.

Commissioned by Dutch flautist Eleonore Pameijer and pianist Marcel Worms, the work was given the first performance at Icebreaker in Amsterdam.

Piano Quintet ‘Mei, Lan, Zhu, Ju’ (2008)

Piano Quintet ‘Mei, Lan, Zhu, Ju’ was commissioned by the 2009 Christchurch International Arts Festival in New Zealand through funds provided by CreativeNZ. Pianist John Chen and the T’ang String Quartet gave the world premiere for the work. The extra-musical idea behind the piece is Mei, Lan, Zhu, and Ju, four plants that have significant symbolism in Chinese culture. Plum blossoms (Mei 梅), orchids (Lan 兰), bamboo (Zhu 竹) and chrysanthemums (Ju 菊), each representing a character of noble attributes, poetic temperament and moral strength in traditional Chinese literati life, are among the most loved subjects in calligraphy and painting. Their association with art and artists is well-known throughout China. Even today, a commonly seen decoration at a home or office is a fourfold screen on which the images of the four plants are painted. The four movements of the piece resonate with these ideas. Though my music is not literal depictions of the subjects, it nevertheless reflects my thoughts and feelings towards the beauty of these plants, in both physical and metaphorical senses.

Perhaps – Song of Burial (2009)

Vocal music is rare in my compositions, but I was so struck by the calm lyricism and deeply sorrowful emotion of Wen Yi-duo’s Perhaps – song of burial that I immediately started to set music to it. The original version (2009) was for piano vocalization, and it was in this way the work was first performed. The version on this recording is an arrangement I made in 2010 for solo voice, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and harp.

Gao Ping

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