Snow in June
Ghost Opera, Snow in June, Chinese Folk Tunes, and Remembrance
Lynn Chang, violin, Wu Man, pipa, Hsin-Yun Huang, viola, and Bion Tsang, cello

Saturday, January 6, 2007, 8:00 PM
Jordan Hall

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Supporting Artists are:

Fenwick Smith, flute; Thomas Hill, clarinet; Sam Solomon, percussion; William Manley, percussion; Aaron Trant, percussion; Steve Kim, piano; and Jae Young Cosmos Lee, violin.

Tan Dun’s “Ghost Opera” for String Quartet and Pipa (1994), with stone, water, paper, and metal has five movements. The composer describes this work as a reflection on human spirituality, which is too-often buried in the bombardment of urban culture and the rapid advances of technology. It is a cross-temporal, cross-cultural and cross-media dialogue which touches on the past, present, future and the eternal; employs elements from Chinese, Tibetan, English and American cultures; and combines performance traditions of the European classical concert, Chinese shadow puppet theater, visual art installations, folk music, dramatic theater and shamanistic ritual.

In composing Ghost Opera, Tan was inspired by childhood memories of the shamanistic "ghost operas" of the Chinese peasant culture. In this tradition, which is over 4,000 years old, humans and spirits of the future, the past, and nature communicate with each other. Tan's Ghost Opera embraces this tradition, calling on the spirits of Bach (in the form of counterpoint quotation from the Prelude in C sharp-minor of Book II of "The Well-Tempered Clavier"), Shakespeare (setting brief excerpts from "The Tempest"), ancient folk tradition and earth/nature (represented by the Chinese folk song "Little Cabbage"). The Bach excerpt acts as "a seed from which grows a new counterpoint of different ages, different sound worlds and different cultures." In the final movement the gradual transformation of the counterpoint brings the spirits of Bach and Shakespeare, the civilized world and rational mind - "this insubstantial pageant" - into the eternal Earth.

The installation employs paper, shadow, and water gong basins placed around the theater. The performers' movements among the seven positions reflect the back and forth movement between different time frames and spiritual realms which is characteristic of the "ghost opera" tradition.

Commissioned by Brooklyn Academy of Music for Kronos Quartet and Wu Man
World Premiere: 
Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, USA, February 17, 1995, with Wu Man, pipa, and Kronos Quartet. Tan Dun was the stage director.

Elegy: Snow in June (1990) for Percussion Quartet and Cello
The image of "Snow in June" comes from the 13th-century Chinese drama by Kuan Han-Ching; in it a young woman, Dou Eh, is executed for crimes she did not commit. Even nature cries out for her innocence: her blood does not fall to earth, but flies upward; a heavy snow falls in June; and a drought descends for three years. Tan Dun's Elegy: Snow in June likewise sings of pity and purity, beauty and darkness, and is a lament for victims everywhere.

The work is a set of free variations. Beginning with fragmentary phrases, the piece builds to a complete thematic statement in the middle, then disperses again. The voice of the cello both opposes and joins four groups of percussion; here, the cello confronts the sounds of tearing paper, the roughness of stones and cans.

The cello and percussion writing in Elegy is at once complex and very idiomatic of Tan Dun
’s work. For his unique approach to instrumental writing focuses on the sound textures and fiddling techniques found in Chinese ritual music and folk opera, familiar to Tan Dun from his own experiences growing up in China. Elegy was commissioned by the New Music Consort, and first performed by Madeleine Shapiro (cello), Claire Heldrich conducting.

Shu Shon Key (Remembrance) by Shih-Hui Chen (2006)

Dr. Shih-Hui Chen wrote the following for her “Shu Shon Key, a viola concerto written for Hsin-Yun Huang”:
It was inspired by a Taiwanese Folk melody and conveys homesickness as well as a reminiscence of my Taiwanese childhood.  To be able to compose for such a fine musician who has such a superb command over her instrument is very exciting for me.  Since Hsin-Yun and I were born in Taiwan and now we both reside in the West, it is most fitting for me to use a Taiwanese folk melody as the basis for this piece.  This is also consistent with my compositional focus in recent years on the integration of Western techniques with elements from a Chinese sound world.

Shu Shon Key is commissioned by a consortium of organizations including Da Camera of Houston, Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts, Appalachian Summer Festival in North Carolina, and the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra in Taiwan.  Two versions of this concerto will be written: one for soloist with chamber orchestra, the other for soloist with a small chamber ensemble (flute, clarinet, harp, percussion, violin, and cello).   The duration of this piece will be approximately 12 minutes.