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Kui Dong: Pangu's Song / Olly Wilson, Et Al

Release Date: 11/30/2004 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80620   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Kui Dong
Performer:  Sarah CahillDaniel KennedyTod BrodyChen Tao,   ... 
Conductor:  Olly Wilson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Contemporary Music Players
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 9 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Terms like “multicultural” and “World Music” continue to act as buzzwords among the cognoscenti, when in fact the concepts and practices behind them are ages old. For just one example, composers on both sides of the Pacific Ocean have been blending elements of Eastern folk and ceremonials musics with Western classical devices and forms since early in the 20th century (with varying degrees of success) and continue to do so today (ditto). Born in Beijing in 1966, Kui Dong is one of a third generation of Chinese composers currently living in America and working in this hybrid idiom—the first and second are represented by Chou Wen-Chung and Zhou Long, among others. Even more so than her predecessors, however, she has come up against the Read more challenge of creating a distinctive voice within a now somewhat familiar, if not yet completely codified, approach to the genre.

Working exclusively with Chinese instruments—the erhu (fiddle), zheng (zither), and di or xiao (bamboo flute)—in Three Voices, she relies on their unusual timbral qualities and a contrast of simple folk-like and disjunct or microtonal intervals to sustain atmosphere and drama. Western instruments require some sound modification to fit into the Eastern philosophy of tonality, so in the five-movement Earth, Water, Wood, Metal, Fire, she “prepares” the piano à la Cowell and Cage (at least in the “Wood” and “Metal” movements—fortunately she’s not so literal with “Fire”), which helps her to obtain symbolic and programmatic sonorities, elsewhere evoked by the stamping, static passages of chords in “Earth,” the trickling, liquid textures of “Water,” and the craggy contours and narrow pitch range of “Fire.” Chinese instrumental techniques are incorporated into both the ritualistic Pangu’s Song, with the flute’s trills, flutter-tonguing, and bent tones sparring with the varied percussion, and Blue Melody, where the subtle friction between the instruments’ distorted pitches seems all the more spontaneous as they toss about shared motifs, which occasionally coalesce.

Each of these works is skillfully organized and features an attractive surface appeal, even if there is nothing especially distinctive about them (not that originality is the be all and end all of New Music—far from it). Nevertheless, the work here that approaches the mixture of Eastern and Western sensibility from the most surprising perspective is Dong’s 22-minute, three-movement electronic/computer tape composition, Crossing. True, some of the cloudy, grainy, electronically generated sounds are strongly reminiscent of the historically grounded, now neglected style of tape composition of the 1950s—but that works in Dong’s favor, as the morphing textures create a kind of symbolic backdrop that represents the alienating New World of her relocation in 1991, into which she weaves explosions of abstract color and timbre as well as brief, recognizable, if contrary, samples of different popular cultures such as a thumb-slapping funk bass guitar, ferocious percussion (including ceremonial bells and gongs), a spoken episode of the Chinese language (untranslated) remarkable for its musical qualities, and a wistful Chinese folk song heard in a little girl’s voice. Perhaps ironically, it is the welcome confusion of sources and sounds in Crossing that is ultimately more engaging and revealing than the more accessible pieces that share this disc.

Art Lange, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Earth, Water, Wood, Metal, Fire by Kui Dong
Performer:  Sarah Cahill (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001; USA 
Date of Recording: 10/21/2000 
Venue:  Stanford University, California 
Length: 20 Minutes 55 Secs. 
Pangu's Song by Kui Dong
Performer:  Daniel Kennedy (Percussion), Tod Brody (Flute)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1998; USA 
Date of Recording: 10/21/2000 
Venue:  Stanford University, California 
Length: 9 Minutes 6 Secs. 
Blue Melody by Kui Dong
Conductor:  Olly Wilson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Contemporary Music Players
Written: 1993; USA 
Date of Recording: 10/21/2000 
Venue:  Stanford University, California 
Length: 7 Minutes 44 Secs. 
Crossing by Kui Dong
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Length: 22 Minutes 2 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: USA (1999 - 2000). 
Three Voices by Kui Dong
Performer:  Chen Tao (Di), Ann Yao (Zither), Hong Wang (Erhu)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1998; USA 
Date of Recording: 10/21/2000 
Venue:  Stanford University, California 
Length: 8 Minutes 42 Secs. 

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