At the Brink of the Chill
Performed by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble.
At the Brink of the Chill was commissioned jointly by the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress and the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble of San Francisco. Scored for violin, viola, cello, double bass, and piano, it was programmed to be premiered alongside Franz Schubert’s Trout Quintet of the same instrumentation.
I began writing At the Brink of the Chill on a most glorious day in the autumn of 2008 during my residency at the Copland House, which is situated in a quiet town next to the Hudson River, about forty minutes north of Manhattan. The fall foliage was at its peak—trees of all shades and hues jostling ostentatiously against lakes and ponds, only slightly subdued by the crisp air and the cloudless blue sky. My music certainly could not escape the influence of such a brilliant display of nature. The second movement, which was actually written first, is the contemplative reflection of my being in such surroundings. In contrast, the first movement, written after movement two, has a more jovial and lively character. It is a portrayal of my heightened excitement while driving down the highway from Boston to the Hudson River Valley. My mood was in a flutter, and my eyes were dazzled by the colors of the foliage shimmering under the gleaming autumn sunshine. However, all of these splendors soon died down, turning into a lusterless sight in less than a week’s time, surely to be followed by a long, bitter winter. This sudden change is reflected in the third movement with its stark dreariness.
Performed by the Empyrean Ensemble; Jiebing Chen, erhu; conducted by Yu-Hui Chang.
Amid Haze, written between 1998 and 1999 at the request of ALEA III, is a concerto for erhu and chamber orchestra. The erhu is a two-stringed bowed instrument whose status in the Chinese instrument family is equivalent to that of the violin in Western music. In this concerto, I wished not only to showcase the erhu’s extraordinarily rich expressiveness, delicate tone color, and flexible character, but also to present it as a virtuosic instrument that can excel in the contemporary repertoire.
This piece consists of three continuous sections. The tempi of the sections grow progressively faster. After the contrapuntal first section, which features the erhu’s expressive lyrical quality, the second section opens with collage-like fragments. The erhu enters again in the middle of the second section and brings the music to a climax followed by a cadenza. The last section is filled with rhythmic energy and is lighter in character.
Amid Haze is dedicated to the composer’s homeland, a place that prospers with great courage against all odds, a place the composer finally learned to appreciate from afar.