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The delayed premiere of Unsuk Chin’s new orchestral work Alaraph: Ritual of the Heartbeats, is unveiled by the Basel Symphony Orchestra on 30 August. The composer is featured across the 2023/24 season in four concerts in Amsterdam presented by the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series.

Unsuk Chin’s orchestral score Alaraph: Ritual of the Heartbeats is premiered at the Basel Stadtcasino on 30 August with Ivor Bolton conducting the Basel Symphony Orchestra. This world premiere follows the cancellation of the planned first performance at Radio France’s Présences festival in February due to nationwide French industrial action. Alaraph appears in further concerts in the coming season by the Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra (27 October), the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic (13 January) and the San Francisco Symphony (16 May).

Composed by Chin in 2022, the 13-minute score was commissioned by Radio France, NTR ZaterdagMatinee (NPO Klassiek’s concert series in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw), San Francisco Symphony, Sinfonieorchester Basel and Taiwan Philharmonic (National Symphony Orchestra). The title Alaraph is drawn from cosmology, while Chin’s subtitle Ritus des Herzschlags (Ritual of the Heartbeats) forges links with musical rhythm. The composer describes how two images were especially important when composing the score:

“Firstly, I was drawn to the concept of the so-called 'heartbeat stars' with their regular pulsation. This is also something the title refers to: 'Alaraph' is one of the so-called ‘heartbeat stars’. These are pulsating variable binary star systems in eccentric orbits with vibrations caused by tidal forces. The term refers to the following phenomenon: the star's light curve is similar to what a heartbeat looks like through an electrocardiogram when its brightness is mapped over time."

“The second crucial image depicted certain aspects of Korean traditional music, both the 'static' courtly ritual music and the lively folk music. I didn't use these in the form of quotations but alluded to them distantly in the work's gestures and structure in a compressed and highly stylized manner.

“The percussion section plays a central role. In contrast to my other orchestral works, I dispense entirely with all melodic percussion, such as the vibraphone or glockenspiel. Instead, the properties of rhythmic percussion instruments are being used to the utmost. Consequently, the work displays considerable energy and physicality.

“My curiosity about science and cosmology has existed for about forty years. The initial impetus, however, dates from when I started to wonder as a child about dreams, an encounter with another world where completely different physical laws prevail. Dreams, not unlike music, are phenomena that flow over time but simultaneously are frozen, like a sculpture, in a tiny moment of timelessness. All of this made me surmise that what we perceive in our everyday lives is merely a fraction of reality. To further pursue these questions, I became curious about cosmology and physics.”

Alaraph is coupled in Basel with Chin’s Fantaisie mécanique and the concert on 30 August launches a busy fortnight of European concerts for the composer, including the Swiss premiere of her sheng concerto Su at the Lucerne Festival conducted by Susanna Mälkki (2 September). A Chin focus at the Musikfest Berlin feature brings a further performance of Su with soloist Wu Wei and the DSO Berlin conducted by Robin Ticciati (30 Aug), her concerto for orchestra SPIRA with the Ensemble Modern Orchestra under George Benjamin (3 September, repeated in Cologne on 10 September) and her Cello Concerto with soloist Alisa Weilerstein and the Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Rafael Payare (7/8 September).

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The 2023/24 season sees a major Chin feature in Amsterdam presented by the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series at the Concertgebouw with five major works programmed in four concerts. The series is launched with Chin’s Piano Concerto, performed by Sunwook Kim, the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Karina Canellakis (23 September). Asko|Schönberg under Bas Wiegers performs Graffiti and Gougalon (28 October) and Kent Nagano conducts the Dutch premiere of Alaraph: Ritual of the Heartbeat with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic (13 January).

The Chin feature in Amsterdam ends in spectacular fashion with the Dutch premiere of Alice in Wonderland closing the ZaterdagMatinee season. This concert performance of Chin’s surreal version of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice tales, mixing dark humour with brilliant orchestration, features the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic conducted by Markus Stenz. The starry cast sees Siobhan Stagg in the title role, with vocalists also including Scott Hendricks at the Mad Hatter, Andrew Watts as the White Rabbit and Heidi Melton as the Queen of Hearts (1 June).

> Visit NTR ZaterdagMatinee series

> Further information on Unsuk Chin
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>  Further information on Work: Alaraph ‘Ritus des Herzschlags’

Photo: © Priska Ketterer

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