There are stories that are not supposed to be told. In Li’s new composition Tell for solo saxophone, the expression of resistance tells the story of the struggles of a holy hunting ground: because it is where the spirits of ancestors dance and therefore is deeply precious, the story of the place cannot be told, even in order to prevent it from being invaded. Drawing inspiration from her encounters with Cherokee people and research on colonial history in Taiwan since the Dutch East India Company, Li, on the one hand, evokes the native language and culture by creating linguistic-like bits of sounds on the saxophone, and on the other, by paralleling a folksong-like tune in a lyrical manner. In the powerful ending of the piece, Li creates the image of a holy site approached by worldly tribal people who join in dancing.


Commissioned by saxophonist Jessica Maxfield, Tell was premiered in the National American Saxophone Alliance and was highly praised during its European premiere in the International Conference in Croatia in Summer 2018. Tell is unique for employing techniques inspired by both the performance practice of Cherokee’s traditional flute and Li’s research with the collaborator saxophonist Jessica Maxfield. Continuing Li’s signature lyricism, new techniques such as “slap-tongue kiss,” “muffled sprechstimme,” and “intoned coda” are broadening saxophone performance practice. Culturally and socially speaking, Tell uncovers the social issues surrounding some native populations, an unfortunate commonality shared between the United States and the composer’s home country of Taiwan. — Yuan-Chen Li




Brad Michel (left), Jessica Maxfield (center), and John Weston (right) at the recording of Tell.



Mar de Lurín  after paintings by Fernando de Szyszlo


The paintings of Polish-Peruvian artist Fernando de Szyszlo (b. 1925) were introduced to me by Dr. Michael Alec Rose in the Spring of 2010. I was transfixed by the vibrant, saturated colors that Szyszlo used, and by the mysteriously ancient quality and subject matter of his art. In a manner analogous to music, Szyszlo's artwork is pervaded by motifs that gain their own significance both within each painting and a universal significance within Szyszlo's œuvre. His paintings of Lurín (a coastal city in Peru) are some of his most beautiful and sensuous works. This composition hopes to pay tribute to their mysterious beauty and is dedicated to Lindsey Reymore and Professor Joshua McGuire. — Peter Dayton




Jennifer Slowick (left) David William Ross (center), and Peter Dayton (left) at the recording of Mar de Lurín



Tiento I & Tiento II  for guitar solo


Both the Tientos for guitar were inspired by and intended for my then-colleague, the famous Irish guitarist Darragh O'Neill. Shortly after Tiento II (dedicated to the guitarist, and the first completed of the two Tientos) was completed, however, Darragh returned to his country. Afterwards, Tatakh Huismans premiered Tiento II in concert in 2009. In 2017, guitarist Ruud Harte premiered Tiento I in concert in The Hague (Netherlands).


By the end of the 16th Century the tiento, originating in Spain, was exclusively a keyboard form, especially in organ music, and analogous to the Fantasia and the Ricercare. With time, the tiento has become formally extraordinarily diverse, more a set of guidelines than a rigid structural model. Additionally, many 20th-century composers have written works entitled tiento, such as J. Langlais, M. Ohana, and J. Rodrigo. Both of these Tientos, however, are imitative to some degree, while flamenco influence can also be heard in Tiento I and Tiento II is stylistically more romantic.


Tiento is also first-person singular present indicative of  the verb “tentar” in Spanish and in Portuguese. Musically, I also want to do justice to these meanings. — Hans Bakker





Inspired by Persian classical music, I composed Se-Chahar-Gah for pioneering guitarist Tolgahan Çoğulu. I had the pleasure of getting to know Tolgahan, and the microtonal adjustable guitar that he had developed and built, in June 2015 in Salzburg. He asked me to compose a piece for his unique instrument, one that makes the realization of any tuning and intonational concept, or any scale structure, possible. Se-Chahar-Gah uses motivic, rhythmical, and intonational ideas characteristic of “Dastgah Chahar-Gah,” a modal system in Persian traditional art music. In this three-movement suite, Dastgah Chahar-Gah’s micro-intervals are approximated to quarter-tones, which manifest themselves not only through fret displacements but also through re-tuning of certain strings. Each movement demonstrates a different character: the first movement works as an introduction to the upbeat dance of the second movement and the contemplative nature of the third. — Navid Bargrizan



10 Aphorisms


Oxford English Dictionary defines “Aphorism” as: “A ‘definition’ or concise statement of a principle in any science; any principle or precept expressed in few words.” In December 2014 in Berlin, I was enthralled by reading the aphoristic writings of philosophers Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein, while simultaneously thinking about a compositional concept for the virtuosic Stacks Duo (Steve Stusek and Laurent Estoppey). The idea of composing ten concise musical statements sounded compelling. But what was the “principle” or “precepts” that these aphorisms would demonstrate? I was in Berlin to present my research paper on Manfred Stahnke’s opera Orpheus Kristall, at the 9th Conference for Interdisciplinary Musicology. In his opera, Stahnke developed a harmony system based on the psychoacoustical phenomenon of difference-tones, where lower frequencies emerge when two adjacent higher frequencies sound simultaneously. As an admirer of Stahnke and his opera, I took the liberty to adopt his “difference-tone harmony” in my 10 Aphorisms. In each aphorism, the soprano saxophone realizes solely 2 frequencies from the spectrum of partials based on a D fundamental—a different ratio in each aphorism and up to the 13th harmonic. The tenor saxophone, on the other hand, conceives the quadratic and cubic difference-tones of each ratio. Steve and Laurent fortunately liked the interplay that happens between the saxophones in these dense microtonal structures. They kindly performed the pieces several times and recorded it. — Navid Bargrizan





Syzygy is a four-movement exploration of homonyms. Syzygy itself is a homonym, applicable to several fields including abstract algebra, zoology, medicine, astronomy, and poetry. These last two categories are where the term most closely fits with this composition. In poetry, a syzygy is similar to an elision, combining two metric feet into one. There are other types of syzygy in poetry as well, however, including something similar to alliteration, and one involving symmetrical patterns of verse form. In astronomy, syzygy refers to the alignment of multiple celestial bodies, such as what occurs during an eclipse. Throughout Syzygy, the homonyms in the title of each movement are displayed, and relationships between them are constructed. The different aspects of the title are sometimes juxtaposed and sometimes separated, resulting in movements that explore multiple ideas simultaneously.


“Canon/Cannon,” the opening movement, is a musical canon throughout, although the type of canon and the number of voices varies. The “Cannon” component is taken not from artillery, but from billiards, wherein cannon is an antiquated term for carom or ricochet. This ricochet is useful to illuminate the form of the canon—as the instruments head in one direction only to rebound quickly in the other, both interpretations of this homonym are illuminated.


“Pour/Pore” involves an outpouring of notes from beginning to end. Within this cascading pitch material are tiny spaces, or pores, through which other, slower material finds its way in and is forced out again.


“Descent/Dissent” involves a passacaglia-like ground bass that slowly descends one octave, often presented in stacks of perfect fifths. Voices not playing the descending line demonstrate their dissent, both pulling against the clear perfect fifths with other harmonies and countering the descending motion with ascending lines.

“Rays/Raze/Raise” begins with an ethereal sound world of shimmering harmonies created by slow-moving rays of sound that are eventually razed—torn down quickly and scraped away. The resulting musical fragments are raised, or grown, into an energetic imitative counterpoint that is further raised through ascending lines that recall the opening passages. — Charles Corey



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