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Unsuk Chin’s new work, Su, pits Chinese sheng against orchestra in virtuoso fashion

Su was written by Unsuk Chin for sheng-player Wu Wei, who has done much to transform the ancient mouth organ into a modern performance instrument. He premiered the work at the Suntory Summer Festival in Tokyo last August and the US premiere followed in October in one of Gustavo Dudamel’s opening concerts at the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The Dutch premiere of Su takes place on 13 March at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam within the ZaterdagMatinée series, and the German premiere is in Essen on 4 June as part of Chin’s composer residency at the Philharmonie.

“The title of Su comes from an ancient Egyptian symbol for air, and the 18-minute score opens with the 37-pipe sheng playing a high A so quietly that the pitch seems like it had always been in the air… Last weekend, Dudamel had told the Bowl audience his America knows no North, no South, no Central. In the second half of Su, Chin and Wu Wei extended that to a world with no East and no West. This was an adoration of rhythm tapping into a universal collective unconscious.”
Los Angeles Times

Unsuk Chin describes how she came to composer for the sheng: “I’ve been fascinated by the instrument for many decades, but my interest in writing a concerto was sparked when I heard Wu Wei for the first time in Berlin, as he introduced me to the great virtuosic possibilities and multi-faceted nature of this instrument… Unlike its Korean and Japanese counterparts, the Chinese sheng – which is more than 4000 years old – has been developed into a modernised and highly versatile instrument. Because of the key mechanisms it has the potential for chromaticism, microtones, chords, polyphony, clusters… At times, it can sound like electroacoustic music and the instrument is capable of the eeriest of sounds and of explosive power.”

>  Further information on Work: Šu

Photo: Wu Wei on sheng

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