WORLD MAP is a multicultural collection of mini concertos for quintet composed by Shuying Li. Each is approximately 10 minutes in duration, and focuses on specific cultural, musical, and historical events that are representative of different regions of the world. All members of the quintet are featured as a soloist, with the pieces showcasing past and present ensemble members’ cultural backgrounds.
American Variations is a set of variations based on an original theme realized in different musical styles: jazz, ragtime, post-modern, klezmer, and pop-rock. It was written for American clarinetist Joshua Anderson. The overall structure depicts a metaphorical journey through different times in American history, at both the macro and micro levels. Specifically, the third variation, subtitled “Strange, strange time,” focuses on the frustration and disappointment that Americans are currently experiencing in a fractured political and cultural climate. The piece ends with a variation subtitled “Coming True,” in which the music depicts the power of the American Dream and resilience of the human spirit to overcome differences in favor of unity and progress.
The Dryad was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name. It depicts a chestnut tree’s migration from the countryside to the modern city, and focuses on the ideas of nostalgia, desire, modernity, old and new homes, contrast, and struggles. Schubert’s “Der Lindenbaum” is featured throughout the piece to represent the dryad’s nostalgia and old memories as it migrates to a new place ripe with new experiences.
The Peace House was inspired by Korean culture and traditional music, and by the idea of “peace” in general. The title draws the name from the Inter-Korean Peace House on the border between South and North Korea, a building that serves as a venue for peace talks between the countries. The building is situated in the Joint Security Area on the south side of the Military Demarcation Line bisecting the area. Before the Korean War, the village, named Panmunjom, consisted of homeowning civilians. The music tries to depict the fear and horror that wars instill within people, as well as the peaceful-yet-complicated emotions that people might have after a disastrous storm.
Matilda’s Dream’s thematic material is derived from the traditional Australian folk song “Waltzing Matilda.” Fragments of the theme are sprinkled throughout the piece, though it is not until the end that the melody appears in its pure form. After a dark and dramatic opening, the cello presents a brooding soliloquy punctuated by plucked open strings in the left hand. This cadenza builds in intensity as it travels into the upper registers of the cello, propelled by urgent, accelerating rhythms. When the ensemble finally enters again, the melodic fragments rotate between the different instruments with vigorous rhythm. The cello takes on a more combative role, disrupting the flow of the ensemble with bursts of chromatics, glissando trills, ricochet strokes, and harmonics. Gradually, the ensemble begins to make sense of the various fragments, pushing the music towards a more coherent version of the theme. When the melody finally appears at the work’s conclusion, all conflict has dispersed, allowing the lone cello to present the theme with the utmost tenderness and vulnerability.
Canton Snowstorm draws inspiration from Cantonese opera woven with Western and Romantic influences from the pianist’s decades of studies. The piece depicts a snowstorm in the subtropical climate of southern China’s Canton, a surrealistic fantasy that exists only in the pianist’s imagination. Through music, however, what seems impossible becomes convincing.
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