When the composer Wang Lu moved to New York’s Upper West Side, she was impressed by the amount of nearby green space in one of the world’s largest metropolises. “It was so clean and quiet,” she says.
In the 1990s, as a student at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, Wang recalls how quickly the noisy pace of tearing down old structures and building new complexes transformed the city as it observed on the way to classes. “One day I was walking past a neighborhood and suddenly, overnight, the building that was there was gone. It would happen just as fast,” she explains.
These contrasts and the rapid pace of development that reshaped China’s urban landscape prompted her to think about nature with greater breadth and depth and what it meant for living things and species as well as our environment. .
At the next concert on January 16, songs of perseveranceas part of NOVA Chamber Music Series’ season pass offers, Wang’s Extinction rate for solo piano will have its Utah premiere. The 2016 work comprises five short movements, which incorporate polyrhythmic layers to signify the heartbeats associated with the accelerating number of species that have gone extinct in recent years as well as the effects of human-induced development. The concert will take place at 3 p.m. at Libby Gardner Hall at the University of Utah.
Heartbeats, pulses and rhythms indeed encompass Wang’s life as a musician, composer, colleague and mother. As his own program note for the play suggests, Wang writes, “Every day, industrial expansion and the modernization of societies push the limits of the Earth’s natural capacity to accommodate and support us. Many animal species are quietly suffering and disappearing due to the harsh conditions imposed by human progress.
Wang’s life in China began in the city of Xi’an just a few years after the end of the Cultural Revolution. This is not a trivial detail, as families in Xi’an and so many other cities in China quickly adopted Western traditions of classical music. Wang started piano lessons at the age of five.
Wang, who was an only child. remembers that virtually every house in the neighborhood had an upright piano, usually thanks to the money that parents and grandparents had saved up to buy it. Incidentally, her father sang Chinese opera and performed in an army-sponsored troupe. This element would add to the growing palette of musical influences, ideals, styles and aesthetics that shaped the intuitive underpinnings of his compositional style. Wang also enjoyed karaoke. Among her fondest memories, she saw her father and his friends recreate a scene from an opera they performed. “They had all the parts memorized and the bonds they made at karaoke were signs of nostalgia and true friendship,” she adds.
“The idea of playing the piano symbolized upward mobility and suited the girls as a way to help them cultivate their way in the world,” she says. The competitive atmosphere was also intense and nerve-wracking, especially as young pianists waited in the wings to perform in front of juries. There is also something sentimental about her childhood where she learned to play the piano. Its amount was the ubiquitous Pearl River pattern that appeared in many Chinese homes. But, when the keys weren’t in their most ideal state, her parents placed weighted bags behind the keys so she could continue to develop essential finger strength and dexterity. This is one of the reasons why Wang doesn’t like preparing the piano. , as many contemporary peers might when writing music involving the instrument. She prefers to let the keys demand all their justice in producing the sounds of the instrument.
It wasn’t until her teens that Wang learned she could compose her own music, which was truly a shocking discovery for a Beijing conservatory student. Suddenly, the world of music opened up enormously. Adding to the bread-and-butter repertoire with which every accomplished pianist has become familiar – Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Liszt, to name a few – Wang discovered 20th-century composers including Ligeti, Xenakis, Martin Bresnick and many others. After moving to the United States in 2005 to pursue her doctorate at Columbia University, she became interested in jazz and many of its characteristic elements, including improvisation. The move to the United States was strategic for his creative development. In China, aspiring composers might have limited opportunities to write what they were most passionate about expressing. Some composers rely on government commissions to write music for propaganda purposes. Wang certainly didn’t want to give up folk music and Chinese opera that were part of her cultural roots, but she also says, “My culture is not 5,000 years old. China was changing so fast and I wanted to write new music that specifically responds to my life experiences today.
prepare to write Extinction rate, Wang thought of rates and rhythms in their various manifestations: the rate of change of infrastructure and urban development not only in China but elsewhere, the alarming acceleration in the number of endangered species as well as their beats of heart, intravenous drip in a hospital and a mother trying to conceive. In addition to polyrhythms, Wang relies on harmonic timbres, taking advantage of the resonance of harmonics and undertones that increase the purely minimalist character of the music. The musical character of each movement varies. In one instance, there is a pattern designed as it might be in Morse code, followed by a brief jazz inflection and a moment of improvisation. Yet Wang is deliberate not to let pessimistic tension overwhelm the piece, as she focuses on a resolution in the music that doesn’t dismiss the inevitable trajectory of what happens to the natural world, but also emphasizes the need for perseverance.
The piece was created by NIng Yu, a pianist who also studied at the same conversation Wang attended, and she included it in a recent album release. The substantial meaning of Carrie’s work for both women. “You rarely see a Chinese instrumentalist who is interested in new music,” says Wang, “and while I was writing it, she was pregnant with her first child and I had started thinking about raising my own family.”
Wang is the David S. Josephson Assistant Professor of Music at Brown University. His music has a prodigious international portfolio. Among many hours, she was awarded the Berlin Music Composition Prize (spring residency 2019) and was a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow. She has also received commissions from the Koussevitzky Foundation at the Library of Congress and the Fromm Foundation at Harvard.
The theme of the concert is also represented by Clara Schumann Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 17 and a string trio by Gideon Klein, composed in 1944. Klein’s work reflects perseverance in the most heartbreaking way. Klein, still in his twenties, was a gifted musician who was incarcerated in the Terezín concentration camp, where many creators and artists were held. Klein was among the musicians who organized concerts and composed works to be played in the camp. In his final months, at the age of 26, he was eventually transported to Fürstengrube, where he likely died, although details have never been conclusively documented.
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