The music of this album is linked together by the themes of memory, culture, and identity. Chen Yi, a Chinese-born composer, searches for a harmonious marriage of centuries-old Western and Chinese musical traditions as she remembers her beloved violin teacher. Kai-Young Chan draws from an ancient Chinese tale about loneliness and regret in a probing and touching work. Yao Chen, Austin Yip, and Michael-Thomas Foumai write music inspired by precious cultural relics from the “Miles Upon Miles: World Heritage Along the Silk Road” exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of History; their works are unique and fresh, demonstrating that the cultures and history of the Silk Road still serve as an artistic oasis for new, bold, and innovative art after thousands of years.
This album represents a milestone in my lifelong journey as a musician in which the championing of new works by contemporary composers through commissions and performances has been a focal point. I commissioned and premiered four works on this album (Chan, Yip, Yao, and Foumai) and my inspiring work with living composers continues. I would like to express my deep appreciation and admiration for the composers whose works are presented in this album. I am grateful for our musical collaboration and personal friendship. — Patrick Yim
Memory CHEN Yi
Memory was written for Chen Yi’s late violin teacher, Lin Yaoji. In the piece’s original program notes, the composer writes to her late mentor: “I wish you could hear the tune in my Memory, which sounds like my painful cry out of your name in our Cantonese dialect. I expressed my deep sorrow in the music, to remember your fatherly mentorship.”
Away Alone Aloft Kai-Young CHAN
Away Alone Aloft is inspired by the well-known Chinese tale of the Moon Lady (Chang’e), who stole the elixir of immortality, unexpectedly becoming a Goddess and ascending to the moon, separating herself from her beloved husband. Legend goes that her silhouette has become the dark shades of the moon as seen from the Earth.
The melodic materials and overall character of the piece are based on the poem “Chang’e” by Tang Dynasty poet Li Shangyin, who expressed with his poem the loneliness and regrets of the Moon Lady. This piece is also written for people who are not able to reunite with their family and loved ones during the Mid-autumn Festival. This work is commissioned by and dedicated to violinist Patrick Yim. — Kai-Young Chan
“Chang’e” by Li Shangyin (translation by the composer)
Through the screens of Mica,
The candle lights flicker.
As the Milk Way descends,
The morning stars are drowned by the dawn.
The Moon Lady should have regretted
Stealing the elixir of life.
The dark blue sky and azure sea
Chill her heart night by night.
Miles upon Miles YAO Chen
Miles upon Miles was commissioned by Hong Kong Baptist University and violinist Patrick Yim for the occasion of the “Miles upon Miles: World Heritage along the Silk Road” exhibition of the Hong Kong Museum of History. The ancient Silk Road facilitated the transmission, in ways both mysterious and rich, of materials and cultural ideas at a time when extended travel was more or less impossible. Sound was a constant companion on these journeys through deserts, mountains and rivers, and the incorporation of new sounds into the performing traditions of a plethora of cultures unleashed an unstoppable force in the course of music history: the free flow, across borders and cultures, of sound itself.
Miles upon Miles is my personal meditation on three of the myriad facets of this trade route, or more broadly of zones of transition in general, and also on three ways of violin playing.
The first movement, Silk Road, makes strong use of tremolos and trills to evoke a specific atmosphere, which is presented right at the beginning with a simple ascending motif from which the entire piece expands. The rhythmic momentum relents here and there, to heighten the degree of expression, before ultimately fading into a mood of peaceful acceptance.
The closing passages of Silk Road foreshadow a feature of the second movement, Buddhist Mantra: the use of open strings. The movement is built on a cascade of three-note patterns played on the bridge, always varying, always restless, always striving forward until a moment when the mantra takes effect and sustained harmonics rise to the fore.
The last note of Buddhist Mantra is plucked, and this note signifies that pizzicato will be a dominant trait of the final movement, Kung Fu, which alternates plucked and bowed sounds in conjuring up an unstable and, yes, even martial world, one not far off from the rustic and hardscrabble world of folk fiddling at times. The music is sprightly but sophisticated, exciting and endearing. — Yao Chen
Miles Upon Miles Austin YIP
Miles Upon Miles is inspired by an exhibition held at the Hong Kong Museum of History of the same title. The exhibition showcases artifacts discovered along the Routes Network of the Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor of the Silk Road, including the northwestern side of China, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. The three movements, entitled I. Gilt Bronze, II. Cameleer, and III. Sancai, refer to the features of artifacts in this exhibition. “Gilt Bronze” refers to the materials used for a silkworm of the Han dynasty, “Cameleer” refers to a painting of a Tang dynasty cameleer, and “Sancai” refers to the colors that were used during the Tang Dynasty.
This work is written for amplified violin and electronics. Field recordings of the Xinjiang Uyghur Muqam, taken in Xinjiang in 2015, are operated through granular synthesis and serve as an extra dimension to the work. Miles Upon Miles was commissioned by violinist Patrick Yim in 2018. — Austin Yip
Relics Michael-Thomas FOUMAI
Relics was commissioned by violinist Patrick Yim as companion pieces that could be performed at the Hong Kong Museum of History’s special exhibit Miles upon Miles: World Heritage along the Silk Road. The exhibition was one of the highlight programs of the Hong Kong Government to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, showcasing the cultural relics from China, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. The work is a suite of eight movements inspired by artifacts featured at the exhibition. — Michael-Thomas Foumai
Patrick Yim (left) & composer Chen Yi in Reykjavík, Iceland, August 2019
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