“Messiaen was the first person who encouraged me to compose truthfully and find myself. Gradually, I discovered that as a Chinese person, my own traditional music is full of character and completely different from anything in Western culture. “
During China’s Cultural Revolution countless individuals lost the opportunity for formal training in the arts, and it was only in 1977 when the Central Conservatory in Beijing reopened that a generation of musicians could once again seek education. Part of the illustrious 1978 graduating class was Qigang Chen who later went on to study with Olivier Messiaen—the mentor who so strongly encouraged the young composer to find his own unique voice. It is this celebration of Chinese heritage that Carnegie Hall sought to encapsulate in the Ancient Paths, Modern Voices festival from October 21-November 10.
Chen was featured on three separate evenings throughout the festivities. His first musical offering was made on Monday, October 26 in the concert Class of 1978 at Weill Hall. Opening the program was Chen’s Instants d'un Opéra de Pékin for solo piano, written for the 2000 Olivier Messiaen Interpretation.
Vivien Schweitzer reports for the The New York Times:
“In a recent interview Chen Qigang said, ‘It is far more difficult for a person from the East to express his feelings on the piano than on the violin or on wind instruments,’ because the microtones prevalent in Eastern music can’t be replicated on the piano…. Pentatonic themes are woven through the mystical interludes of this colorful piece, whose percussive nature evokes the gongs and cymbals used in Peking Opera.”
The second concert to present Chen’s work was on Wednesday, October 28 in Stern Auditorium. This evening, featuring Lang Lang and the Juilliard Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, brought the world premiere of Er Huang for piano and orchestra, Chen’s first concert work under his new agreement with Boosey & Hawkes. Chen describes this 15-minute concerto as “a theme and variations with a twist” based on a well-known Beijing opera melody “Er Huang yuan ban,” one of the principal aria types originating in Anhui province characterized by a strong melody and thoughtful moods. This world premiere played with “gracefulness and dignity” (Allan Kozinn, The New York Times) will be followed by the Chinese premiere in 2010.
The final concert presenting Chen was on Tuesday, November 10 in the Stern Auditorium featuring Iris dévoilé, a work for three female voices, erhu, pipa, zheng, and orchestra inspired by Goethe’s concept of the “eternal feminine.” The 45-minute piece featuring “lush, sweetly melodic lines… with the support of a sensual orchestral score” (Allan Kozinn, The New York Times) was recorded by the Orchestre National de France to critical acclaim.
Chen, Director of Music of the 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony, includes in his future plans a joint commission from the Hong Kong Philharmonic, Radio France and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic for the 2011-12 season. His music will also be the focus of a composer feature at the Shanghai EXPO in Spring 2010.
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