Lei Liang: Milou

Release Date: 4/12/2011
Catalog Number: 80715-2
Composer: Lei Liang
Conductor: Jeffrey Milarsky
Number of Discs: 1

Physical Format:

Notes and Editorial Reviews

LIANG Ascension. 1 Winged Creatures. 2 A Journey into Desire. 3 Yuan. 4 Lake 5. Harp Concerto 6. Milou 7 1 Meridian Arts Ens; 2 Takae Ohnishi (hpd); 3 Pablo Gómez (gtr); 4 Radnofsky Qrt; 5 John Fonville (fl); 5 Jane Rigler (fl); 6 June Han (hp); 7 Lei Liang, cond; New England Conservatory players NEW WORLD 80715-2 (69:14)

Contemporary Asian composers are frequently conflicted by their own histories and culture. Lei Liang was born in 1972 in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, during which Western culture and even traditional Chinese arts were vilified. He came to America when he was high-school age and found himself at what he calls a “cultural and spiritual ground zero.” And yet as a young adult and music student (he is a New England Conservatory and Harvard graduate) he embarked on a vigorous search for his past. This work represents a kind of musical-theatrical vision of that journey.

Although every piece on this album is filled with historical allusions, the music is rarely Asian-sounding in any traditional sense. Liang has excluded any Asian instrumentation, and there is minimal use of Asian technique or folk material. Liang’s voice has many components: atonality, jazz, vocalism, microtonality, chance, and even romanticism. This is the kind of music that has a physical, even visceral quality, such that it can take on concrete shapes that beg to be held, and even tasted. It is not surprising that, in the manner of Morton Feldman, he is highly influenced by painters. The fascinating and beautiful Harp Concerto from 2008, for example, is inspired by the work of Huang Binhong (the inclusion of an example of his art in the program would have been nice). Liang instructs the harpist to use all sorts of techniques to expand the sound, including scraping the strings with a protractor, hitting them with a mallet, and preparing the instrument in Cage-like ways. Yet ultimately he respects the basic nature of the harp, and the work concludes with a rhapsodic coda. The brave soloist, June Han, also gave the world premiere.

The music for solo or duo musicians similarly mixes innovation and idiomatic writing, including Journey into Desire for solo guitar, Lake for flute duo, and the harpsichord cadenza Winged Creatures , which also includes assistance from two violins and cello. They are also based on nonmusical sources, respectively a Buddhist story, beavers swimming on a moonlit lake, and Chinese calligraphy. Liang’s masterly sense for texture and shape, as well as a quirky rhythmic pattern, give these pieces substance and quiet sinew.

The three other large works, Ascension, Yuan , and Milou, all have their roots in Chinese history, which can be as dark as it was glorious. Liang himself participated in a recent slice of that history, as a protester at Tiananmen Square in 1989. The shocking violence of that time haunts his music, especially the operatically conceived Milou , a recollection of the labyrinth palace and garden of the Emperor Yang of Sui. Although the music is resolutely modern and original, it is also the most historically evocative on the album, with the ancient clap of wood blocks, resounding gongs and wind instruments imitating the distinctive sound of Chinese opera singers.

There is little that is routine or meek about the music of Lei Liang. It is a strong cup of coffee, indeed. But for those inclined to excitement and stimulation in their music-making, his is an important young voice. All of the performances are vital and polished, and the recorded sound is superbly realistic.

FANFARE: Peter Burwasser
Works on This Recording
1. Ascension by Lei Liang
Orchestra/Ensemble: Meridian Arts Ensemble
Period: 21st Century
Written: 2008 ;
2. Winged Creatures by Lei Liang
Performer: Chia-Ling Chien (Cello), Kate Hatmaker (Violin), Jeff Zehngut (Violin), Takae Ohnishi (Harpsichord)
Period: 21st Century
Written: 2006 ;
3. A Journey into Desire by Lei Liang
Performer: Pablo Gómez (Guitar)
Period: 21st Century
Written: 2009 ;
4. Yuan by Lei Liang
Orchestra/Ensemble: Radnofsky Saxophone Quartet
Period: 21st Century
Written: 2008 ;
5. Lake by Lei Liang
Performer: John Fonville (Flute), Jane Rigler (Flute)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1999 ;
6. Concerto for Harp by Lei Liang
Performer: June Han (Harp )
Conductor: Jeffrey Milarsky
Orchestra/Ensemble: Manhattan Sinfonietta
Period: 21st Century
Written: 2008 ;
7. Milou by Lei Liang
Conductor: Jeffrey Milarsky
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1996-1999 ;
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