In my first doctoral recital on Feb. 28, 2010, I performed Chinese American composer Ge Gan-ru's Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!, a melodrama for voice and toy ensemble written originally for Margaret Leng Tan. It was based on a poem written by the famous Chinese poet of Song dynasty, Lu You (1125-1210). In the spring of 1155, Lu You met in the Shen Garden his former wife Tang Wan whom he was deeply in love with and yet from whom he was forced to divorce by his tyrannical mother. Tang Wan offered him the golden-branded wine and he wrote the following poem spontaneously on a wall of the garden:
《 钗头凤》-- 陆游
《Phoenix Hairpin》 -- Lu You, translated by Xu Yuanzhong
Pink hands so fine,
Spring paints green willows palace walls cannot confine.
East wind unfair,
Happy times rare.
In my heart sad thoughts throng,
We've severed for years long.
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
Spring is as green,
In vain she's lean,
Her silk scarf soak' with tears and red with stains unclean.
Peach blossoms fall,
Near desert'd hall.
Our oath is still there, lo!
No word to her can go.
No, no, no!
An interesting piece to pull off, it turned out to be many people's favorite that night. The success of the performance led to the idea of commissioning Ge to write a sequel to Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!, now based on the poem written by Lu You's beloved ex-wife, Tang Wan, after she had read Lu’s poem:
《 钗头凤》-- 唐婉
Tang Wan's reply to Lu You's poem (translated by Xu Yuanzhong):
The world unfair,
True manhood rare
Dusk melts away in rain and blooming trees turn bare.
Morning wind high,
Tear traces dry.
I'll write to you what's in my heart,
Leaning on rails,
Hard, hard, hard!
Each goes his way,
Gone are our days.
Like ropes of a swing my soul groans always.
The horn blows cold,
Night has grown old.
Afraid my grief may be descried,
I try to hide my tears undried.
Hide, hide, hide
This companion piece, Hard, Hard, Hard! will use the same instrumentation as Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!, enabling future performers to play them as a set:
Toy harp/ table harp with plectrum (muted with glass)
Wooden block (high)
3 Temple gongs/ cup gongs
Old fashioned water warbier
Toy accordion/ Paper accordion (endowed with 2 note compass)
1 Pitched Plastic Hammer
This commissioned work will be featured in my next doctoral recital in Spring 2011. I am absolutely thrilled by the thought of working with an established composer like Ge Gan-ru. Regarded as “China's first avant-garde composer and one of the most original composers of his generation…” (New Grove Dictionary of Music), Ge has worked with famous artists such as Margaret Leng Tan and numerous renowned ensembles like the Kronos Quartet and Ying Quartet.
Ge was recently nominated as one of "Fifteen Most Inspiring People in Classical Music." (http://www.naxos.com/news). To read more about his biography, works, and recordings, go to http://www.geganru.com/
Pianist Genevieve Lee, a versatile performer and professor of Pomona College, having watched my performance on Wrong, Wrong, Wrong! and recently performed the work herself, has agreed to co-commission this new work. However, I will still be responsible for the remaining amount.
This commissioned work will not only further introduce Ge's inspiring music to the public, but it will also enhance my research into keyboard works using spoken text and works influenced by Chinese art form and musical materials. Like Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!, the sequel Hard, Hard, Hard! will give "voice" to Tang’s poem. Through sounds and song, nudges the audience to reminisce of this unforgettable 800 year-old Chinese romance with an absolutely refreshing touch.
“Truly exceptional performance! The sounds created images that were so real that they were almost vivid…it brought us right back to the olden days of China with wooden chairs, wooden table, wooden window and a lonely man singing about his lost love…
I’ve actually known of those poems since teenage years after I’ve picked up a book that wrote about Chinese poets and their life stories. I meant, this particular poem, it's meaningful only because it came with its pair. Tang wrote the poem after reading Lu’s poem, but I feel the romantic bit was she wrote a reply to it...it was such a sad story...I remember reading the wife's poem and my tears were instantaneous.”
-- Dr. Yinghui Chee, Cambridge, England
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