The Journey, a piece in three movements for clarinet, violoncello and orchestra, was composed in celebration of my artistic and personal relation with the ineffable Yo-Yo Ma, and the main concept of the work is to have upfront a small “Combo,” comprising Cello, Clarinet, Piano, Erhu and one percussionist, surrounded by the Symphony. For tempi and rhythmic balance and stability, it is crucial for all players as well as the conductor to keep very closely in contact with this upfront percussionist, who must be a creative musician, as well as a connoisseur of those so characteristic ethnic rhythms of this side of the Atlantic.
As a kid, my parents used to take us to a picturesque restaurant in Havana’s Chinatown called “El Pacífico,” on the top floor of a building where a few different Chinese cultural societies used to gather. So I remember that while ascending on that tiny, cage-like elevator, mixed with the aroma of orchids, Jasmine rice with black beans and the laundry parlor downstairs, we could hear different groups of Chinese musicians rehearsing together, performing on traditional instruments. The nostalgic sound of the Erhu always attracted my attention and forever stayed in my mind. Many years later, when I wrote this concerto, I took the opportunity to use—on the second and third movements—the mystical sounds of this Chinese string instrument to blend with Jazz elements as well as with melodies, harmonies and rhythmic cells from Brasil and the Afro-Cuban traditions.
The title of the piece, “The Journey,” is a soulful tribute to the impoverished Chinese people who, alongside with Africans, arrived in America in such precarious conditions, and have hugely contributed to the arts and culture of the New World.
— Paquito D'Rivera