'Eternal Joy' is the title of an important Qu Pai (named melody) from the repertoire of Kun opera, one of the Chinese operatic forms with a long tradition. The original tune is delicate and graceful, yet also has an unyielding, instantly identifiable character.
I heard the melody for the first time as a small child, in the famous Kun opera Peony Pavilion by Tang Xian Zu. Subsequent encounters with the tune as an adult have thus always evoked childhood memories. I have decided to use the original title of the Qu Pai, because it also seems to me to have a quasi-religious connotation. When commissioned by the BBC Proms and other organisations to write this work, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to reincarnate this unforgettable tune with the sound of the trumpet, a very Western instrument. By doing so, I hope to fully explore the expressive range of the instrument, from the exquisite to the muscular.
I imagine the soloist conveying the wild inner character of the music while playing an elegant, beautiful melody. In writing the piece, I have deliberately set up a lot of challenges for the player not only in terms of musical expressivity and techniques, but also regarding sheer physicality. I am thrilled to be writing for the outstanding Alison Balsom, who is perhaps normally more accustomed to the more elegant side of the repertoire. I trust she will be willing to push the envelope in many ways to help me realise the musical imagery I have in my mind.
Eternal Joy was written during a residency at the Gong Geng artists' retreat, in Sui Chang, Zhe Jiang Province (Eastern China). It was exactly there that Tang Xian Zu wrote Peony Pavilion over four hundred years ago.
—Qigang Chen, 2014 (translated from Chinese by Sharon Zhu)