Afterlight for soprano saxophone and piano (2018)
Afterlight was written in response to a multitude of tragedies that occurred in early 2018. The title refers not only to the word’s definition (of retrospect) but also to my own interpretation of the word afterlight: that of the "light" that remains when someone passes, in the form of memories, shared experiences, a sense of presence even when someone is gone.
Four Bagatelles for violin, alto saxophone and piano (2016/arr. 2018)
Four Bagatelles is an arrangement of four movements from a set of six, originally composed for flute, cello and piano. The four pieces that form the larger work are contrasting in character, exploring unusual timbral colours, extended harmonies, lyricism, rhythmic pulse and whimsy. The Ravel-esque opening movement entitled “the palest of blues” features a solitary blue note, and the second movement “rondino” is a mosaic of fragments that create a constantly shifting texture. “still waters”, offers a lyrical and introspective meditation, and the closing movement is a classical musician’s study on that intriguing phenomenon called ‘groove’.
Bagatelles for flute/alto flute, cello and piano (2016)
1. the palest of blues / 2. rondino / 3. elixir / 4. still waters / 5. togetherness / 6. rhythm study no. 1
Ever enamoured of short forms, in composing Bagatelles for the Nu:BC Collective I turned once again to my favourite musical structure: a collection of multiple brief movements. The six pieces that form the larger work are generally light in character, exploring unabashed melodicism, splashes of colour and tongue-in-cheek whimsy. The Ravel-esque opening movement entitled “the palest of blues” features a solitary blue note, and the second movement “rondino” is a mosaic of fragments that create a constantly shifting texture. In “elixir”, a mesmerizing C# piano drone gradually draws in the other two instruments like moths to a flame, with the following movement, “still waters”, offering a lyrical and introspective meditation. The fourth movement, “togetherness” is about, well, togetherness (or not), and the final movement is a classical musician’s brief study on that intriguing phenomenon called ‘groove’.
Four Short Poems for erhu and piano (2014)
1. Flight of Fancy / 2. Green Sheep Tango / 3. Air / 4. Walls of Joy
Written for Nicole Li and Corey Hamm
Duration: 7 min.
Available through the Canadian Music Centre
Years ago, I heard Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 for solo violin performed effortlessly on the erhu. Prior to that experience I had heard the erhu only in a traditional Chinese folk music context, and I was awed by the ability of the instrument to display such a decidedly Western style of virtuosity. Four Short Poems was inspired by this approach of adapting 'Western' musical gestures to the erhu, though the set is not intended to be a virtuosic showpiece. Rather, the four brief movements feature the erhu and piano in various ways, ranging in character from quirky to serene to exuberant. Listen to excerpts of the four movements here.
New Stories for alto saxophone and piano (2013)
Commissioned by Joseph Lulloff, with funding from the Fromm Music Foundation
Duration: 16 min.
Available through the Canadian Music Centre
Storytelling is one of the oldest art forms, and one that has captured my attention and imagination as far back into my childhood as I can remember. The most captivating stories were those recounted by my elders: family history dating back to imperial China, war experiences, hardships and struggles as new immigrants, family rifts and betrayals. New Stories is not a musical retelling of these events, but a nod to the oral tradition of passing down family history, identity and experiences.
My own rather modest and ordinary life has little to offer by way of dramatic narrative; however, New Stories is my own way of reflecting on my musical influences and experiences as a second generation Chinese-American who later immigrated to Canada. Chinese folk songs, 80’s pop ballades, and marching band tunes are equally a part of my musical identity as are Brahms, Stravinsky and more recent contemporary Western art music. The four movements that comprise New Stories are my own personal narratives, of sorts, that provide glimpses into the sound worlds that result when these diverse elements are embraced and woven together in various ways.
From a Dream for erhu, zheng and percussion (2009-10)
From a Dream was commissioned in 2009 by the Orchid Ensemble for a program featuring China's picturesque Yellow Mountain (Huangshan) as a theme. In writing this work, I was inspired by breathtaking imagery of the mountain, from the legendary "sea of clouds" phenomenon to the intricate rock formations and twisted shapes of its ancient trees. The work unfolds in a series of musical tableaux, with each section inspired by a specific element of nature. Much of the music is intimate and unhurried, aiming to convey a sense of the mountain's awesome beauty, spaciousness and eternalness.
In Quiet Light for alto saxophone and electric guitar (2009)
In Quiet Light is based on sketches for a structured improvisation that I had originally composed for solo saxophone. This piece is a reworking and development of those musical materials, retaining the improvisatory nature and the spacious, unhurried meditative feel of the original. Throughout the work, the two instruments move primarily in a series of call-and-response patterns, fading in and out of the overall texture by echoing one another. The piece is meant to unfold in a single long line with new musical ideas emerging seamlessly, then gradually circling back to the opening material, creating a sense of gentle ebb and flow.
In Quiet Light was composed in 2009 for saxophonist Christopher Creviston and guitarist Oren Fader.
Beyond Shadows for clarinet/bass cl, cello and piano (2008)
In writing Beyond Shadows, I was drawn to the combination of clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), cello, piano and percussion for its wide range of rich and complex timbres. The dark, ominous quality of the ensemble’s lowest register in particular inspired me to base the piece on the idea of irrational fears and phobias.
The work features a range of colors and gestures for which the ensemble is well-suited: fast, soft scuttling and whispering lines, dark low registers, and percussive scrapes contrasted by the quiet tension of high harmonics and sighing pitch bends. Much of the one-movement work is hushed and suppressed, with scattered eruptions into flurries of activity. Fragments of a theme appear throughout, gradually expanding into a complete melody in a final coda section. Even this lyrical element, however, has an unsettled, manic quality, and though the ending fades to a quiet close, it remains unresolved and tinged with dark undertones.
Beyond Shadows was written for the Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players.
Walk on Water for alto saxophone and cello (2004)
The movement of water is often used as a metaphor for time: the flow of time, the stream or tide of time. In Walk on Water, I explore the idea of movement as it relates to the flow of music unfolding. Although the work evolves in one continuous line, there are sudden surges and hesitations; phrases take unexpected turns in character and dramatic intensity, and elsewhere remain more static, creating circles through repetition. This erratic pattern of push and pull creates the perception of elasticity in the flow of time, with unpredictability propelling the piece forward.
As with the reflection of images in water, the musical material appears in varying degrees of distortion, moving through turbulent, aggressive passages as well as tranquil, meditative lulls. These abrupt shifts create an overall atmosphere of restlessness that carries through until the final cadence of the piece.
Walk on Water was written for Paul Bro and Kurt Fowler, with funding provided by an Indiana State University Arts Endowment Grant.
Four Vignettes for clarinet, horn, cello and piano (2004)
Commissioned by Brian Kilp with funding from the Indiana State University Arts Endowment.
Duration: 7 min.
Embers for dizi, erhu, zheng and percussion (2003)
Commissioned by Music from China with funding from Chamber Music America.
Duration: 15 min.
Obsess for saxophone quartet (2003)
Commissioned by the Chicago Saxophone Quartet.
Duration: 10 min.
Commissioned by the Kylix New Music Ensemble with funding from the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition.
Duration: 15 min.
Instrumentation: flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, cello, piano.
Available through: Canadian Music Centre
Wind/Unwind employs varying rates of change and development in an exploration of motion in music. The first movement, spiraling, is a single, continuous line that unfolds very slowly yet steadily. The texture grows increasingly heavy and dense with each return of the theme, giving way to a massive, dissonant cluster that fades away, unresolved. (a little interlude) follows, characterized by a quirky, lilting waltz. The music moves forward in sudden surges and stops, providing a brief respite from the intensity of the opening movement. maniacal is a whirlwind of chromatic flurries and short explosive statements, creating a rush of frenetic energy that propels the movement forward. The initially fast rate of change from idea to idea and colour to colour changes as the music becomes fixated on particular gestures, eventually collapsing into obsessive repetitions of the opening three-note motive.
The title comes from the imagery I associate with the motion within the work: in the first movement, a single thread slowly and gradually unraveling to expose a rough, unpolished core; in the last movement, a tightly wound-up coil, and the energy that explodes upon its release.
Wind/Unwind was commissioned in 2002 by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University and written for the Kylix New Music Ensemble.
The Light Fantastic for violin, cello and piano (2001)
The title of this piece is drawn from the phrase 'tripping the light fantastic', which reflects the overall off-kilter energy in this work. All four movements aim to convey a sense of the unexpected, whether mysterious, humorous or over-the-top exuberant.
The opening movement, Electric, serves as a brief introduction that layers aggressive passages over contrasting, serene material. Passionate cadenza-like statements are passed around the instruments, accompanied by a sparse and sustained background. Softly the night… is the work's central movement in terms of dramatic weight. This gentle nocturne is characterized by soft, fluttering tremolos and languid, twisting phrases that fade in and out of the texture. The third movement, A Little Waltz Music, is a musical narrative. All instruments begin with a trite little tune, but as the waltz disintegrates and goes increasingly awry, one member of the ensemble remains resolute, creating a ridiculous interplay between extremely tense, dissonant music and a nonchalant C major triad. Shake it Up is a light-hearted and somewhat bombastic movement that features a driving, boogie-woogie bass line and nonstop energy.
Miniatures for flute, cello and piano (1998)
Miniatures was written a set of five short etudes, each based on a specific musical concept that addresses texture, gesture, or colour. The first etude, angel voices, begins with each of the instruments assigned to a particular role: melody, accompaniment, or timbral/percussive elements. In each successive phrase, the instruments trade roles, weaving a constantly shifting yet seamless texture of melody, harmony and timbral embellishment. drowning music is an interplay of two contrasting textures. The tranquility of the opening line in the flute and cello gradually transforms in reaction to the violent and jagged outbursts in the piano. interlude focuses on using colour rather than melody to express a musical phrase. Motion is created through the juxtaposition of various textures and timbres. chunks is a patchwork of contrasting and disconnected musical ideas. These separate musical building blocks are then linked together to create longer phrases that form the overall structure of the movement. In chanson, a single continuous melody is passed from one instrument to another, each voice fading away as the next one enters. Miniatures was written in 1998 for the Feliano Trio.
Lyria for bass and piano (1997)
Duration: 6 min.
Light Fragments (1997)
Duration: 8 min.
Instrumentation: flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, percussion.