About this work:
It’s a privilege to write a new work for my friend, the pipa master Ms. Wu Man to perform in the 05/06 concert season. Remembering the first time we worked together in 1991, Wu Man premiered my solo piece The Points on the age-old Chinese traditional instrument, with her adventurous virtuosity and sensibility in the piece with new musical concept and language, at the NewWorkOctober concert series at Columbia University in New York, presented by New Music Consort. I have been very happy to keep track with her new experiment and success in the new music field since then. Again, in 2001, I have composed a trio for her to play with Yo-Yo Ma and Young-Nam Kim, commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota for the Hun Qiao project. Wu Man loved the piece so much that she commissioned me another new work to perform this time.
In Chinese cultural tradition, in which I am deeply rooted, music is a part of an organic art form, along with poetry, calligraphy and painting. I am glad that Wu Man suggested to create our new work together with visual artist Catherine Owens. We are going to combine the art forms together in one. I got my inspiration from three ancient poems, which are drawn in Chinese calligraphy, with exaggerated dancing lines and shapes in layers of ink. The music would go with image projection in Chinese painting according to the poems.
Written for Wu Man and commissioned by the Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville, AR, the duet Ancient Dances is written for pipa and a set of percussion instruments (including a pair of naobo, finger cymbals, and bongos; a Japanese high woodblock, a triangle, 3 Beijing Opera gongs in small, medium and large sizes, a suspended cymbal and a conga). It consists of three movements of music — Cheering, Longing, and Wondering, in which the music abstractly represents various expressions, in different textures and tempi, inspired by the text in the three Chinese poems by Li Bai from Tang Dynasty: 1) Riding on My Skiff; 2) Night Thoughts; 3) The Cataract of Mount Lu. The flying lines, as like mysterious and vivid ancient dances, bring the music, the calligraphy, and the painting all together in our work.
Version: Pipa and percussion
Year composed: 2005
Ensemble type: Chamber or Jazz Ensemble, Without Voice:Other Combinations, 2-5 players
Instrumentation notes: Duet for pipa and percussion