Two “phenomena” were my inspiration for this composition. First, there was the sheng, an apparition from a distant world, with a three-thousand-year history, fascinating, almost ghostly. This instrument was a discovery for me, and when I was asked if I could imagine writing a concerto for it, I was immediately enthusiastic. This project offered me a unique opportunity to start from scratch as a composer. I first had to acquaint myself with the technical fundamentals and possibilities. And the complicated fingering system made it necessary for me to constantly try out the chord and tone combinations on the instrument myself.
The second important source of inspiration was the “phenomenon” Wu Wei, with whom I was in intensive exchange during the compositional process. His personality, his wonderful musicality, and unique presence as a soloist deeply impressed me.
The piece is divided into four movements that follow one another without interruption. They are each linked by a sudden loud chord in the whole orchestra, a minor chord with chromatic neighboring “disruptive tones.” Due to its startling character, I call it the “shock” or “scream” chord. It appears a total of four times in the piece, on an increasingly higher pitch level, and links the movements to one another or leads in the last movement into the coda.
The first movement. Phenomenon, is calm and initially presents the sheng without accompaniment. In doing so, a larger portion of the harmonic material is already exposed.
The second movement, Hunting, is characterized by a quick tempo, tone repetitions, forward-rushing chains of sixteenth notes, and wild outbreaks in the orchestra. The soloist seems harried, but also has to contend with vehement confrontations.
In Canto, the third movement, the line is paramount, the vocal aspect of the sheng. At the same time, the harmony is based on improvisations in which seemingly particularly common fingering combinations resulted. The harmonic progression in the second half of the movement is the result of the linking of such “objets trouvés.”
The finale, Dance, is based on a continuous, rapid eighth-note pulsation, partly straightforward, partly irregular, and with frequent changes of meter.
Bernd Richard Deutsch (translation: Howard Weiner)