New music for piano & Chinese folk instruments
With his Navona debut ERGO, pianist and composer Zhen Chen makes an impressive contribution to the decades-long legacy of composers blending Chinese and western instruments and musical materials.
This musical trend can be traced back 20 years, when a potent generation of Chinese and Taiwanese composers who began to explode across American and European concert stages. Luminary composers like Bright Sheng, Tan Dun, Chen Yi, and Zhou Long paved the way for younger Chinese artists like Zhen Chen, who uses ERGO to continue this blend of his native musical culture with many parts of the Western musical tradition.
ERGO places piano alongside two of the most familiar traditional Chinese instruments to Western audiences: the pipa – a kind of Chinese lute – and the erhu – a bowed Chinese string instrument. Chen’s use of spacious piano accompaniments and straightforward and expressive melodies makes this combination sound natural while retaining its unique charm.
While the album’s compositions don’t directly draw from Chinese folk tunes, Chen does an excellent job of creating musical contexts that suit the piano, pipa, and/or erhu, as well as his typically naturalistic subject matter. The titles of many of the composer’s pieces describe a landscape, which he, accordingly, seems to illustrate with his music.
These pieces – such as Stroll by the Lake, Springfield, and others – are composed with clear forms that proceed with a gentle, rhythmically consistent piano accompaniment, from which a tender, sometimes plaintive, melody will emerge and develop in one or more solo instruments.
Chen’s melodies and textures play to the strengths of his instrumental forces, and he demonstrates keen awareness of their coloristic similarities and differences. Moreover, his harmonic language tends towards pentatonic and natural minor scales, though the song Plum Blossom Chant, for voice and piano, beautifully mixes different forms of the minor scale.
Two works on ERGO stand out in their style, rhythmic intensity, and playfulness: Turpan Tango and Dance Floor Banter. These pieces are based on Western dances – the tango and waltz, respectively – with Turpan Tango most notably departing from the album’s overall contemplative character for a more raucous mood. With this said, Chen’s earnestness, which abounds in his inward-looking music, remains a driving factor in these two dance pieces, and helps connect them with ERGO’s other works.
Composer and pianist Zhen Chen follows a decades-long tradition among American and European composers of blending traditional Chinese and western instruments
While Chen’s piano-focused music is typically gentle and contemplative, he shows a more playful side in the dance-inspired works Turpan Tango and Dance Floor Banter
ERGO includes performances from two traditional Chinese string instruments. The erhu, often referred to as a “spike fiddle,” is a two-stringed bowed instrument with a versatile, calming sound. The pipa, one of the most popular Chinese instruments, is a four-stringed plucked instrument. It was named with Chinese syllables based on how it’s played – “pí,” to strike outward with the right hand, and “pá,” to pluck inward towards the palm of the hand
Chen’s collaboration with violinist Shuai Shi on FAURÉ, SCHUMANN, BARTÓK Sonatas for Violin and Piano has been hailed by Fanfare Magazine as "a perfect balance" with “sheer beauty of tone, fluent and fluid playing, and emotional refinement.”
ALSO ON NAVONA RECORDS
Release Date: April 14, 2017
Catalog #: NV6089
Zhen Chen composer, piano
Jiaju Shen pipa
Feifei Yang erhu
Yixuan Pang voice
01 Jade (piano, pipa)
02 Springfield (piano, pipa, erhu)
03 Regret (piano, erhu)
04 Plum Blossom Chant (piano, voice)
05 Stroll By The Lake (piano, pipa, voice)
06 Turpan Tango (piano, pipa, erhu)
07 Dance Floor Banter (piano, pipa)
08 Longing (piano, erhu)
09 Lament (piano, voice)
10 Recollection (piano)
All tracks recorded June 2016 at Oktaven Audio in New York NY
Recording Engineer Ryan Streber
Cover Art Lan Zhenghui
“Reel” ink-painting on rice paper
Project Consultant Liang Pan
Executive Producer Bob Lord
Executive A&R Sam Renshaw
A&R Alex Bourne
Audio Director Jeff LeRoy
Engineering Manager Lucas Paquette
Art & Production Director Brett Picknell
Graphic Design Emily Roulo
Marketing Scott Murphy
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Navona Records offers listeners a fresh taste of today's leading innovators in orchestral, chamber, instrumental, and experimental music as well as prime pieces of classic repertoire. Our music is meticulously performed by the finest musicians and handpicked to ensure the most rewarding listening experience.
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