It is a strange and curious thing to rediscover a piece one wrote years ago and to hear it with fresh, objective ears. It is like visiting a house one lived in years ago- in which each room is just where it should be and each piece of furniture is right where it always was, and every nook and corner has a vivid memory attached to it. It is like meeting yourself from an earlier time…
The piece posted here here was commissioned by the contemporary music group “Fear No Music” of Portland, Oregon which at the time was the Pierrot lunaire ensemble plus percussion. “A Far Tower: Fragments from the life of Yu Hsuan-chi” is an eight-sectioned piece that evokes images from 9th century China and a woman poet experiencing life as a courtesan and a Daoist recluse. The sections all flow together as follows:
Cycle I (the flow of the Dao- relentless and not concerned with human happiness)
Lute I (Hot, rhythmic popular music from the Silk Road as physical, sensual pleasure)
Cycle II (a brief reminder of the underlying movements of the universe)
River (A river journey with fellow poets; romance growing to ecstacy)
Zither/Temple Bells (seeking consolation in a mountain retreat; playing the zither and listening to distant bells)
Cycle III (another reminder)
Lute II (a return to the sensuous, perhaps a bit desperately)
Cycle IV (the inexorable turning of the wheel which fades, as do we all, into silence)
I had been very fond of this piece and enjoyed its premiere very much in 1996. The recording however was a disappointment with a too-distant microphone and too much ambient echo. I put the piece on a shelf and wasn’t sure I trusted myself: perhaps it had been a bad piece after all. Perhaps I should simply move one. And so I did.
Then a week ago I received a ten-year old recording af a second performance that I had never heard. It was astonishing- it was exactly as I had hear the piece in my head fifteen years ago, as though the musicians, who had not spoken to me about their performance, had read my mind. The silences, the thinness of texture, the delicate subtleties borrowed from Chinese poetry, the inhumaneness of the Cycle theme, and the over-the-top romance of rivers, zithers and bells- all of it was there like a sudden return to the moment of composition.
Give it a listen and see what you think. It’s not music for the background. Put it on and turn the lights off. See where it takes you.
In the next post I will talk about its compositional structures.