What happens to music when the globe shrinks and the formerly disparate cultures of the world begin to mingle and cross-fertilize?
No one knows for sure – yet. But it may sound a little bit like the music of contemporary composer Huang Ruo, whose 21 minute "Path of Echoes: Chamber Symphony No. 1," will receive its Illinois debut Saturday with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra.
Partly inspired by hikes in the mountains when Huang was a child, partly inspired by the aftermath of despair and national mourning following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the five-section piece mingles the Eastern and the Western: Chinese percussion and – of all things – a conch shell share the stage with conventional European instruments such as flutes, bassoons and trumpets.
"I used to hear echoes in the mountains," said Huang, who teaches composition at the State University of New York's Purchase College. "What inspired me was the traveling of the echo sound. How they vary from one to another through different times and different spaces. I tried to use the orchestra to create a sound map. It's almost like you had a valley in front of you. This orchestra is like this valley. How sounds travel from one to another imitating each other, also transforming each other. Sometimes you might hear the falling rocks. Sometimes you might hear some bird calls."
You might hear funeral music as well.
"That part was actually just for my response to the tragedy that happened Sept. 11," he said. "I lived in New York City at that time. After what happened in New York City on Sept. 11, I could not compose for months. And then what brought me back together to be able to create again. Music should surpass everything. If people could hear music in everything they do, they would start to love the world they live in and start to love people. Those were my childish thoughts when I wrote the piece."
So far, Huang's body of work consists of pieces for voice, solo instruments, chamber ensembles and orchestra. He also has collaborated with New York City Ballet's choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and principal dancer Damian Woetzel, and has supplied film scores for the films "Jian-Fu Garden" and "Stand Up."
Huang's music is startling, sometimes theatrical. In one piece, "Without Words," the voices of a choir gradually emerge from silence, like colors slowly seeping through plain, white paper. In "To the Four Corners," musicians are positioned both around the stage and around the auditorium, soloists dramatically, suddenly illuminated in pools of light.
"I always love the drama in music," Huang said. "I grew up listening to (Chinese) opera with my grandmother. When I was in a village, we had people singing opera and opera being staged – or had a village band doing some ritual ceremony. I heard people singing, chanting and also dancers wearing masks. It was quite haunting but also a priceless education for me."
Huang, now 34, was born in the year the Cultural Revolution ended – in 1976 on Hainan Island, in southern China. He spent his early years in Guangzhou, near Hong Kong. His father, Huang Ying-sen was a composer for television and film, and began teaching piano to the little boy, deciding that his son should follow in his footsteps. Eventually he went on to audition as a composition student at his father's alma mater, Shanghai University. He was 12, and China had opened up to Western influences.
"At that time, I had no formal training in classical or traditional Western music, so for me to conceive, for example, the Beatles at the same time as Bach and Stravinsky – it was an interesting mix," Huang said.
After Huang won a competition at Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Henry Mancini prize at the International Film and Music Festival in Switzerland, he came to the United States. He studied at Oberlin and completed postgraduate work at the Juilliard School.
A career break-through came in 2000 when the Philadelphia Orchestra played his "Three Pieces for Orchestra." In 2003, his four chamber concertos were released on CD by Naxos, a prestigious classical label. In the meantime, he also has founded an innovative new group called Future in Reverse and has become an American citizen.
He said he has pondered the meaning of American music and sees its essence as self-reinvention as the nation absorbs and transforms new music from all over the world – riding the crest of an ever more interconnected globe.
"My music is harder to define as East or West." Huang said. "It's so beyond that. Yes, it's a world culture coming together. What is a world culture today people could define differently tomorrow? We should look at the past, and we should look at the present. What we do now will affect the future. I do what I feel like, I do what I believe in and let other people define what it is."
SOURCE: pjstar.com



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