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"After Spring" (1983)

"After Spring" was written between 1982-83 when the composer was living in Seattle.

The piece starts with a simple five-note theme, which is slowly developed, expanded, recycled and varied. From a single melody gradually chords are formed. Perfect fifth is a significant interval, as a part of the melody at first, then it grows towards the end of the piece into a section which consists of harmonies made up of superimposed fifths.

The formal aspect of "After Spring" is similar to the general construction of a traditional Chinese Qin piece. Basically it can be divided into five sections: 1. "Loose" rhythm, slow tempo, what the qin players called "Loose beginning." 2. Gradually enters the main theme, called "Into the tune" — becomes more regular rhythmically. The five-note theme is repeated and developed, the music comes to a high point. 3. A highly contrasting passage brings the music to "Into Slow" section. 4. As the piece has the tendency to end, new material derived from old appears, leading the piece to a new stage, which is called "Start again." 5. Finally the theme is briefly restated, called "Ending sound."

This composition received the hightest honor in 1987 at the "Shanghai Music Competition," which was the first international composers' contest that took place in China.

"Another Spring" (1988)

"Another Spring" is the third of my "Spring series" which features piano in various ensemble settings. It emphasizes the linear aspect of the piano, as both alto flute and cello are primarily melodic instruments. The object is to form a harmonious whole while retaining the individual quality of each instrument.

"Atlas" (2004)

"Atlas" uses the idea of an oriental carpet as a point of departure. It contains repetitive elements analogous to the border pattern, then evolves into a centerpiece which makes up the main section of the work. Much of the musical material consists of melodic fragments, similar to Gushe, a Persian melodic type, literally meaning corner, part, and angle. Attracted by the name of this ensemble, I picture this piece as an imaginary musical atlas, moving through the many lands where all the instruments come from.

The major challenge for me in composing this work is to find an appropriate musical context for all the instruments of Central Asia, Europe and China to co-exist, without compromising their own individual identities. At first, they seem to be in a foreign territory, playing music that is not familiar; gradually they reveal their own "ethnic" characteristics. As the piece progresses, they seek to find a common ground, a common language, and harmony. For a moment, they seem to have arrived at the goal only to drift off again into silence.

I am very grateful to have the opportunity to compose this piece, which is dedicated to my friend Juliette Moran, whose enthusiasm to life has been an inspiration for me. She always says: "We are all from the same genetic pool, there is only one race, the human race." I had this sentence in mind all through the months while I was working on this composition. Even though all the instruments seem to have their own national characteristics, they all stem from the same source. It's fascinating to me how Ud became lute in Europe, Pipa in China and Biwa in Japan. Maybe one day all nations will co-exist in peace, just like in our little musical world, with all the musicians from different countries playing happily together.

"Bittersweet Music"

"Bittersweet Music" is a series of pieces for solo instruments, mostly virtuosic in nature. "Bittersweet Music I" for piccolo solo explores the expressive capacity and timbral possibilites of the instrument, making extensive use of its low register, multiphonics and microtones.

"Bittersweet Music III" is one of the end products resulted from my three-month residency in Japan, under the auspices of the Asian Cultural Council. It was inspired by a visit to the Meian Temple, the "Mecca" of the Fuke-shu school of Shakuhachi players. I have no intention of writing Japanese or Shakuhachi music but would like to evoke the meditative quality of these compositions. This work is written for and dedicated to my friend and long-term collaborator Paul Taub.

"Circle" - for Orchestra (1992)

I started the composition of "Circle" during my residency in Italy on a Rome Prize fellowship in 1992. My original proposal was to compose a piece commemorating the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America. I was amused by the fact that Columbus, an Italian, set out to look for China, and found America instead, and I, being Chinese, arrived in Italy via America. I later decided that Columbus didn't need another piece for his glorification and wanted to write a piece about exploration in general, in memory of the other, lesser known explorers, particularly those who never made it back. Using the geographic world as a model, I divided the harmonic material into two groups of chords, each contains seven notes, analogous to the seven continents; the other group has five chords, each has five notes, corresponding to the five oceans. There is a fanfare towards the end of the piece for John Cage, an explorer of the human mind and spirit, who passed away as I was working on this piece.

"Fanfare for the New Millennium" (1999)

"Fanfare for the New Millennium" was commissioned by the Macao Handover committee to celebrate the return of Macao to China. It is dedicated to the people of Macao. In this piece, I have made use of the repetitive element which is characteristic of Cantonese music. On top of a dance-like ostinato, a small melodic cell is repeated, extended, then multiplied until the whole orchestra is playing this melody simultaneously. I had in mind what Chairman Mao had once said: " Let a hundred flowers bloom, rid of the old and bring out the new," symbolizing the continued prosperity of Macao with the new era.

"Omi Hakkei" (2000)

"Omi Hakkei" refers to the eight scenic views of Omi by Lake Biwa, near Kyoto, Japan. These views have been immortalized by the woodblock prints of Hiroshige, whose work was very much influenced by Chinese landscape paintings. I have visited these scenes during my three-month residency in Japan, under the auspices of the Asian Cultural Council in 1998. I was most intrigued by the cross-cultural references of the same subject matter, yet expressed by such different means. I also seek similar cross-cultural approach in my music by combining Chinese and western instruments; eastern aesthetics with western compositional techniques. I have quoted from Debussy and Takemitsu in two of the movements as an homage to the masters. I would like to dedicate this piece to the memory of Toru Takemitsu.


Pipa, the Chinese lute, is technically the most demanding of all the Chinese musical instruments. It makes use of many complicated finger techniques, among them "Run" is perhaps the most difficult. It is executed by using five (or four, or three) fingers, taking turns to strike the string (or strings) rapidly and continuously, to produce an even and sustained tremolo.

"Run" also means wheels, or cycle in Chinese. "Run" was written specially for Wu Man, who premiered the piece in 1993 in New York.

"Saudades de Macau" (1989)

This is a transcription for two pianos of the orchestral work "Saudades de Macau," which was commissioned by the Macao Cultural Institute and premiered in April of 1990 by the Macau Sinfonietta, conducted by the composer.

The composition reflects the composer's memories of her birthplace. "Saudades" is a famous Portuguese word that has been used by many poets throughout history. Many Portuguese feel that there is no equivalent word in English, but it can be loosely translated as "longing."

It is in five movements as follows:

Praia Grande (Grand Bay) - a poetic place where lovers linger
Fortaleza do Monte (Monte Frotress) - the historical battle of 1622 when the Dutch were defeated
Jardim Religioso (Religious Garden) - the multiplicity of different religions co-existing in one place
Cancao de Embalar ( Lullaby) - a lullaby traditional to Macanese children, based on a transcription of Harry Ore

Tonight's performance is a world premiere of this work.

"Six Phenomena" (1998)

The idea of "Six Phenomena" came from the "Diamond Sutra," as follows:

"Everything has Potential Dharma, even as a dream,
A faulty vision, a bubble or a shadow,
As dew drops or lightning flash,
It should be viewed as it is."

There are six movements altogether, depicting each of the six phenomena. As the Buddhist believes that the physical world is just an illusion, I feel music shares the same illusive quality, hence this composition.

"Song of the Pipa" - for Pipa Solo & Orchestra (2001)

Commissioned by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, "Song of the Pipa" is based on Tang Dynasty Poet Bai Juyi's poem of the same title. It is intended to be a "translation" of the words into music rather than literal illustrations. It takes on the spirit, the progress and the pace of Bai's poem, unfolds slowly, like a scroll. The pipa is heard first off-stage, as across the water, playing melodies that evoke the music of the protagonist's young days in the capital city. The soloist appears to view playing a cadenza, after which she engages in dialogue with the cello (representing the poet) and evokes with the orchestra Bai's rich emotional realm of remembrance and melancholy and music regained when it was thought to be lost. The key sentence of the poem is represented by a unison melody, appears at the climax of the piece: "both of us are hapless outcasts at the father end of the sky; meeting like this, why must we be old friends to understand each other?" "Song of the Pipa" was premiered on April 6, 2001 by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Samuel Wong, with Wu Man, Pipa soloist. This piece is dedicated to my mother.

"Sudden Thunder" (1994)

"Sudden Thunder" was commissioned by the American Composers' Orchestra and was premiered at Carnegie Hall, New York, in 1994, with Wu Man as the pipa soloist. The work began as a solo piece entitled "Run," exploring various traditional pipa techniques, with a particular emphasis on "lun," the tremolo, technically the most demanding of all. It then became a "found object," which was put in the context of an orchestral work. The title "Sudden Thunder" comes from a poem by Lu Xun: "Listen to sudden thunder where there is no sound."

"Wenji" (2001)