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Drama of Song
for flute, violin, viola, cello and vibraphone
(2020)

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This piece includes Elements of Taiwanese opera. There are places where performers approximate the pitch bends and vibrato of Taiwanese music and in many places a quasi minimalist layering of repeated patterns makes textures that evoke the busy instrumental accompaniments of Taiwanese opera. In some places pentatonic pitch collections and traditional rhythms are used in obvious ways. Finally, the music evokes drama with dialogues and gestures that mimic body movements, or even the acrobatics of opera performers.

The piece begins slowly, with a mysterious and mournful mood. The strings provide quiet murmuring sounds while piccolo plays expressive melodies and vibraphone adds clarity and brightness. Eventually, cello and viola are plucked with guitar picks to mimic certain Chinese instruments. The tempo and complexity increase until the music opens up into the bright pentatonic sound world of the second part. Here, overlapping patterns evoke accompaniments of Taiwanese opera and the violin enters as the solo “singer”. Rhythmic tutti interjections mimic physical motions onstage and different “characters” enter as solos.

The third part is slow pensive and sad, with alto flute acting as the main character. Phrases evoke a speech-like way of singing where story details are revealed. After viola and cello solos add dialogue, vibraphone enters with a short freely played cadenza-like transition to the final fast part. That part evokes the military characters in an opera. Solos enter as characters with different personalities and physical movements. There are even places where the music seems to leap, spin, or cartwheel like the acrobats in a military scene.

(duration ca. 10' 30")

 

This piece was commissioned by the Taiwan Music Institute, of the National Center for Traditional Arts.