Sounds of the Dragon: Virtuoso Music for Chinese and Western Instruments

Hear new works for violin, cello, piano, erhu, and pipa composed by Pulitzer Prize-winner Zhou Long; Beijing-based composer Lu Pei; and Chen Yi, winner of the Charles Ives Living Award. Two outstanding ensembles–Music From China and Music From Copland House–join forces for this performance, presented as part of the Bill and Mary Meyer Concert Series on November 3, 2011.


Hear new works for violin, cello, piano, erhu, and pipa composed by Pulitzer Prize-winner Zhou Long; Beijing-based composer Lu Pei, and Chen Yi, winner of the Charles Ives Living Award. Two outstanding ensembles—Music From China and Music From Copland House—join forces for this performance, presented as part of the Bill and Mary Meyer Concert Series on November 3, 2011.

Music From Copland House
Michael Boriskin, piano
Harumi Rhodes, violin
Thomas Kraines, cello

Music From China
Wang Guowei, erhu
Chen Yihan, pipa
Sun Li, pipa

Title Time
Zhou Long
Taiping Gu (2005)
Wang Guowei, erhu
Thomas Kraines, cello
Chen Yi
The Points (1991)
Chen Yihan, pipa
Lu Pei
Scenes through a Window (2004)
Wang Guowei, erhu
Harumi Rhodes, violin
Thomas Kraines, cello
Sun Li, pipa
Michael Boriskin, piano


Taiping Gu
Zhou Long (b. 1953)
The composer Zhou Long has written:
Taiping Gu is named for a frame drum (also called dan gu) that originated in northeastern China during the Tang dynasty (618–907). Originally used by shamans in hunting and sacrificial rites, taiping gu became the name of a popular form of song and dance among the Han people, as well as the Mongolian and Man ethnic groups today. While playing the drum, the performer dances in rhythmic patterns.

First composed in 1983 as Taiping Drum for violin and piano, I have drawn on pentatonic folk tune material found in a kind of duo singing-and-dancing form popularized in northeastern China. The music is in a rondo form. At the request of erhu master Xu Ke, Taiping Gu is the revision for erhu and cello. The piece opens with a strong introduction, imitating the drum beating in a free tempo; the erhu imitates rhythmic drumbeats with strong pizzicato chords. The first episode is formed by a lyrical melody flowing on top of the cello's harmonic glissando arpeggios. The second episode combines the two themes together on the erhu and the cello. While the first theme returns, the erhu plays intensive drumbeats, and eventually the music reaches a concluding climax.

Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in music, Zhou Long graduated from Beijing's Central Conservatory and was composer-in-residence at the China Broadcasting Symphony in the early 1980s. A graduate of Columbia University, he is currently a visiting professor of composition at the University of Missouri–Kansas City Conservatory. His works have been commissioned by the BBC Proms Music Festival; the Singapore, Kansas City, Pacific, Honolulu, and Bavarian Radio Symphonies; the Brooklyn and Tokyo Philharmonics; and the Kronos and Shanghai string quartets, among others. He was the Music Alive Composer-in-residence for the Seattle Symphony, and he has served for many years as music director of Music From China.

The Points
Chen Yi (b. 1953)
The Chinese title for The Points is Dian. The work is also known as The Spirit of Calligraphy. The form and structure of the piece are based on Chen Yi's impressions of the movements and gestures of the eight standard brushstrokes in the zhengkai style of Chinese calligraphy. Although the title refers to the contact points between the brush and paper that commence and characterize the eight strokes, "points" also aptly conveys the nature of plucked string music. The melody consists of musical points plucked with the fingers. The large repertory of performance techniques for the pipa is used to translate the flowing energy of the brush—its flourishes and arching strokes, the different touches of the brush, the subtle shades of light and dark ink—and create musical imagery that is rich with timbral colors, textures, and dynamics.

Chen Yi is a distinguished professor at the University of Missouri–Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. A graduate of Beijing's Central Conservatory of Music and of Columbia University, she recently received the prestigious Charles Ives Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her music has been commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin and Yo-Yo Ma; the Cleveland Orchestra; the BBC, Seattle, and Singapore Symphonies; and the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics. In 2006 the China Education Ministry appointed her Changjiang Scholar Visiting Professor at Beijing's Central Conservatory.

Scenes through the Window
Lu Pei (b. 1972)
Scenes through the Window was strongly influenced by various facets of American popular music and by aspects of folk music from ethnic minority groups in remote areas of southern China. Despite their geographic and historical separation, Lu Pei sees these two cultural areas as having produced musical styles that share certain qualities. The work's melodic material is, however, all original. "The repetitions of the tunes in the work," noted the composer, "were inspired by rap music, which I accidentally heard on my car radio while driving from Chicago to Louisville in 2004. I could imagine how interesting the music might be when the repetitions of rap-style tunes would be played on Chinese instruments, and Chinese-style tunes were played by the violin!" The work's title derives from watching and enjoying the beautiful scenery at a hilltop house in Indiana.

Lu Pei has been commissioned to compose works by Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, the Chicago and San Francisco Symphonies, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Art Institute of Chicago, Amelia Piano Trio, Chicago's Grant Park Orchestra, and musical institutions in China, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Among his recent honors are those from the Jerome Foundation Composers Commissioning Program and the American Composers Forum, as well as the American Music Center's Margaret Fairbank Jory Award and the composition competition of Italy's International Electronic Music Festival. He earned degrees from the University of Louisville, where he also served on the faculty, and the University of Michigan. Lu Pei has been a professor of music at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music since 2006, and he is also a guest professor at Nanjing Normal University and an honorary professor of the Guangxi Institute of Arts.


Music from China
Established in 1984, Music From China performs Chinese classical and folk masterpieces, in addition to new music by living composers. The ensemble has performed at the Library of Congress, Boston Early Music Festival, Tisch Center for the Arts at New York’s 92nd Street Y, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Maine’s American Folk Festival, BBC in England, Eastman School of Music, and Chautauqua Institution, as well as numerous universities, including Princeton, Duke, Pittsburgh, and Williams. Music From China produces an annual Premiere Works concert series, featuring commissioned and new works for Chinese instruments by such composers as Chen Yi, Zhou Long, Dorothy Chang, Vivian Fung, Bun-Ching Lam, and James Mobberley. The group has received a Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for adventurous programming.

Wang Guowei is both a composer and an erhu virtuoso. He studied at the Shanghai Conservatory and was concertmaster and soloist with the Shanghai Traditional Orchestra. He has served as artistic director of Music From China since 1996. An active soloist, he has performed with the Shanghai Quartet, Amelia Piano Trio, Four Nations Ensemble, Virginia Symphony, Post Classical Symphony, DaCamera of Houston, and Continuum, as well as with Ornette Coleman, Butch Morris, Kenny Garrett, and Yo-Yo Ma.

Sun Li, pipa, graduated from the Shenyang Music Conservatory. She was a member of the Central Song and Dance Ensemble in Beijing before joining Music From China in 2002.

Chen Yihan, pipa and zheng, graduated from the China Conservatory in Beijing. She later served as pipa instructor at the conservatory. She was a prize winner at the 1989 ART CUP and 1995 Freedom International Chinese Music competitions. She became pipa soloist of Beijing’s Huaxia Ensemble, founded for the performance of new and traditional music, and toured with the ensemble to the United States, France, Holland, and Portugal.

Music from Copland House
Music From Copland House (MCH) is the resident ensemble at Aaron Copland’s National Historic Landmark home in New York’s lower Hudson River Valley. Since its New York debut at Merkin Hall in 1999, MCH has come to serve as perhaps this country’s only wide-ranging American repertory ensemble. It has been engaged by Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles, Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, and the Caramoor, Cape Cod, and Bard Music Festivals. The ensemble collaborated with NPR and Euro-Radio on a special concert broadcast in more than twenty countries. The ensemble is regularly featured on Copland House’s new mainstage concert series at the Merestead estate in Mount Kisco, New York. MCH has commissioned compositions by Richard Danielpour, Chen Yi, Tamar Muskal, Pierre Jalbert, Derek Bermel, and Sebastian Currier, whose Copland House work, Static, won the prestigious 2007 Grawemeyer Award. Inspired by Copland’s lifelong advocacy of American composers, MCH also presents a variety of educational and community outreach activities.

Michael Boriskin, piano, is the artistic and executive director of MCH. He has appeared with leading international orchestras and in major concert halls, including Lincoln Center (Great Performers Series), the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, and Vienna’s Arnold Schoenberg Center. His broadcast series, CENTURYVIEW, was heard for three seasons on NPR, and his extensive discography appears on BMG/Conifer, Harmonia Mundi, and other labels. His recording of Gershwin’s complete piano and orchestra works has just been re-released on Sony Classical.

Thomas Kraines, cello, has performed at London’s Wigmore Hall, Wolf Trap, and the festivals of Spoleto (Italy), Mostly Mozart, Vail Valley, Yellow Barn, Killington, Moab, and Bard. He toured extensively as a member of the Peabody Trio and currently performs in a duo with his wife, Juliette Kang, as well as in the free improvisation duo Dithyramb with percussionist Cameron Britt. He is heard on MCH’s recording of music by John Musto, and he taught at Princeton and Columbia Universities, the Peabody Institute, and Phillips Academy.

Harumi Rhodes, violin, is a founding member of the Naumburg Award-winning Trio Cavatina and has performed as a guest artist at the Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Seattle Chamber Music Societies and the Vermont Mozart Festival. Recent highlights include performances with Musicians from Marlboro at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, and Boston’s Isabella Gardner Museum. She has also performed in Carnegie Hall’s Making Music Series, and she recently completed a residency at the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society II.

—Notes provided by Music From Copland House and Music From China


Podcast, notes, and slideshow coordinated by Michael Wilpers, public programs manager. Web design by Liz Cheng, audio engineering by SuMo Productions and Andy Finch, and text editing by Joelle Seligson. Special thanks to Music From Copland House and Music From China for granting permission to podcast their performance at the Freer Gallery.

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