Qigang Chen: orchestral variations on Chinese folk drama
Luan Tan, the new energetic set of orchestral variatons by Quigang Chen, was premiered in Hong Kong in April with future performances in Liverpool and Paris.
Qigang Chen’s new orchestral work, Luan Tan, follows his recent scores in drawing upon folk traditions of Chinese musical drama, but inhabits new emotional territory for the Shanghai-born and Paris-based composer. The 22-minute work builds layers upon a flute melody, Bolero-like through a sequence of variations, and is a tribute to Chen’s son Yuli, who died tragically in a car crash aged 29.
As the composer described in an interview with the South China Morning Post, the loss of his only child halted his creativity for a year and the long gestation of the new work marked the depth of grief to be overcome: "I wanted a breakthrough of my musical style, which tended to be refined, melancholy, and soft. So I chose the folkish elements in China’s long theatrical tradition that is strong in rhythm and dynamics… The overall tone of Luan Tan is energetic and happy, and that’s my boy’s personality… my son and I co-exist in the music, which is positive, dynamic and full of life."
In his programme note, Chen explains how Luan Tan "was almost a battle with myself. Elements that usually appear in my works, such as long melismatic lines, attractive melodic themes or imposing harmonies are almost completely absent, replaced by ceaseless rhythmic pattern, leaps of tiny motifs, and gradually accumulated force through repetitions. Since the inspiration was from the traditional form of Luan Tan – an outgoing musical style in Chinese drama originating around 1600 – timbres and characters from this style make an inevitable appearance in the work, for instance in the shape of the important role played by the temple block, with the almost cacophonous counterpoint of the Chinese cymbals."
Luan Tan was premiered at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in April, with Zhang Xian conducting the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Further performances are planned in Europe by co-commissioners the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. This summer brings the London premiere of Iris devoilée at the BBC Proms and a visit by the Guangzhou Youth Orchestra to the Berlin Konzerthaus with Chen’s piano concerto Er Huang as part of the Young Euro Classic festival.
> Further information on Work: Luan Tan
Photo: Liu Hui