NOTES about THE ALBUM
Music is a language we all share. I was born in S. Korea, I was raised in the United States, and I have lived in Europe. To an extent, music has been my passport to the world.
The composers I am fortunate enough to work with on this album have also taken their own journeys through music. From different backgrounds, experiences, and heritage, they use the language of music to tell their stories. From around the world and forged in America, each brings their own style, expression, and beauty to music.
That is what is boundless in this life – passion, creativity, enthusiasm, love! Music is the language capable of speaking those things universally. I am honored to perform these works from three extraordinary American composers.
With love and gratitude, Minju.
As an Asian-American composer, much of my exploration in my music deals with how growing up in a dual culture environment. At home, Chinese traditions prevailed; yet my musical education was Western. Some of my music have direct Chinese influences, through instrumental inflections, direction of line, texture, timbre, and inspiration. Other works feel distinctly Western. Most often it is an inseparable combination of the two, just as one’s personality is constructed by a multitude of influences. Pulse dealing with matters of the heart, reveals Asian influences in subtle ways. As Pulse delves into the excitement, nervousness, sadness, love - all felt through the beating of the heart, moments of Asian aspects, from certain gestures, to timbres representing instruments like the sheng (a hand-held mouth organ) and glissandi mimicking the zheng (zither) exist. Influences of some of my influential composers – George Crumb, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Rachmaninoff certainly are here as well. Pulse was commissioned for Minju Choi and grows from our friendship.
As fireworks light up the sky in “Anxious”, carving out the contours that follow, sheng-like chords mark moments as the line weaves like a dragon dance. Celebration and anxiety are mixed here, as a child would wait for the next burst of light and energy. The nervous energy builds through the rhythms and angular contours, as the fireworks makes their lasting impression in the night sky. “Anticipation” is flighty, a fluttering of nerves of expectation. A dragonfly’s flight inspires the design of this movement, creating a light, singular line dancing around the keyboard. Moments will come back later in the work. “Dream” is hazy, peaceful, as if images shift in and out of focus. Memories, influenced by life’s moments, by composers, by feelings associated with playing their music, are captured here, as delicate images are connected through the mind’s web. Memories soar, like the dragonfly from “Anticipation", as subtle recollections of the fireworks of “Anxious” also make their way into one’s “Dream.” The final movement, “Adrenaline” deals with the excitement of a moment - its passion, its vulnerability, and its energy. A million thoughts can fill this moment, as when, in an instant, a lifetime of thoughts, emotions, memories flash through the mind. With love, respect, and admiration, Pulse is commissioned for Minju Choi.
- CHING-CHU HU
This piece is dedicated to my grandmother Griselda Cam. It draws inspiration from the idea of “mestizaje,” as envisioned by the Peruvian writer Jose María Arguedas, whereby cultures can co-exist without the subjugation of one by the other. In such a spirit, Sonata Andina para piano solo mixes elements from the western classical and Andean folk music traditions. “Allegro Aymara” suggests drums from Bolivia (such as the large TAMBOR, the medium WUANKARA, and the smaller TINYA) and flutes (such as the PINKILLO, made of thick jungle reed, and the less typical TARKA, a heavy wooden end-blown duct flute that produces a hoarse overblown tone). “Himno Inca” mimics an ensemble style common to the Andes where a number of players stand around in a semi-circle with panpipes known as ZAMPOÑAS that each have a constricted range of notes which may be preceded, accompanied, and followed by brief percussion. “Adagio Illariy” presents another typical flute, the QUENA. The title refers to the dawn light which outlines the edge of the planet as it curves out of sight just before the sun appears. The Finale Saqsampillo, written in homage to Alberto Ginastera, is a dance that features “warrior devils” or jungle dwellers considered savages. Instruments imitated are two kinds of guitars (the six-stringed Spanish version and the CHARANGO, a higher-pitched ten-stringed instrument made out of an armadillo shell), the ZAMPOÑA flutes, and the MARIMBA.
- GABRIELA LENA FRANK
I am a composer who believes that music can explain more about itself than words can explain about music. If I write in the abstract language of music it is indeed to communicate things which cannot be expressed in the domain of verbal language. I also believe that if music has a powerful effect on people it is not because it imparts one thing to many but rather because it evokes many different things to many different people. This said, my piano Sonata is in three movements with an overall fast-slow-fast organization. I set out to write a work that would be “traditional” in its general form while offering a unique structure within its content. Thus for example, the first movement is in traditional Sonata form, yet each of the thematic elements of the opening exposition return in mixed order in the recapitulation. This created a fascinating relationship of the melodies and harmonies where each unit works together with every other unit not in one temporal sequence but in several, each time creating a new meaning by the new relationship. Like a jigsaw puzzle where the various pieces can be joined in various patterns to create entirely different images. The theme of the second movement follows a slow inexorably descending spiral interrupted at the mid-point of the movement by a quasi-recitative which for me reaches to an overwhelming question. The last movement is fast, spirited and in the style of a toccata. It is deceptively difficult and is technically extremely demanding. The Sonata as a whole is entitled Les Hiboux Blancs (“The White Owls”) and I feel most definitely that the White Owls play an important role throughout the piece, but rather than to try and explain why, I would much rather return to the thoughts expressed at the beginning of these notes and say that not all can, nor should be explained with words! The Sonata was composed in 1996 and premiered at Merkin Concert Hall in New York by pianist Ju-Ying Song. It is published by Max Eschig in Paris where Minju Choi performed the revised and final version in 2001. Thus began Minju’s long association with the piano Sonata which has led her to play the work many times over these 17 years. In fact, Ms. Choi performed it live each night for a week when the Sonata was set to dance by the Diane Fay Dance Theatre, choreographed by its founder and director Diane Fay. During that run, Ms. Choi was on stage as an integral part of the choreography while 7 dancers turned her performance into gesture.
It is most exciting that Minju has at last recorded the work as it has long been maturing in her. The White Owls is a piece which, I know speaks from very deep in her soul and it is a privilege and an honor for me to have this work included in her new recording.
- PHILIP LASSER
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