Posts Tagged ‘chamber music’

(2014)

  • Instrumentation: piano, erhu
  • Duration: 7’00
  • Performers:Corey Hamm & Nicole Li
  • Commissioned by Corey Hamm and Nicole Li

Program Notes

Who Made the Inch of Grass was written for Corey Hamm and Nicole Li as part of their Piano and Erhu Project, and they recorded it for Volume Two of their project compilation, released on Redshift Music in January 2015. This was my first time writing for erhu, an instrument that I have long wanted to explore. I am particularly attracted to the lyrical nature of the erhu and its tradition of ornamentation, so I knew I wanted to feature those elements.

As I was starting on the piece, I remembered a short melodic fragment left over from another piece, buried in my stacks of papers. This fragment had to be left out of the earlier piece for logistical reasons, but I had been hanging onto it because I liked it and wanted to use it somewhere else. I had a hunch it might work for Who Made the Inch of Grass.

That fragment now forms the first few phrases of the piece. I developed it into a delicate, lyrical line, ornamented with traditional erhu slides, warbles, and vibrato. This material is juxtaposed against a floating, asynchronous piano that weaves in and out of the melodic framework. Throughout the piece, the two parts play quasi-independently, dancing around each other, tied together harmonically but not playing at the same time. Sometimes the erhu takes the lead, at other times the piano takes over. The end result is a rich, dreamlike texture, constantly changing through the push and pull of the musical materials.

Photo CC by David D'Agostino on Flickr

I’ve noticed that every month or so I run across another article lauding an ambitious group of young chamber musicians for forging their own non-traditional path: playing in nightclubs and bars, using non-standard setups, playing amplified, writing/commissioning all-original repertoire, etc. This is what indie rock bands have done for decades, hence the oft-used labels “indie classical” or “alt classical”. And I think it’s great that classically trained musicians are doing this—what better proof of the vibrancy of chamber music?

But… most of the articles I’ve seen focus either on (1) “Isn’t it great what those kids are doing?” or (2) “Does this qualify as classical music?” I personally think those are two of the least interesting questions to ask about the “indie rock”-ification of chamber music. There’s a lot to learn by taking a critical look at this trend, weighing the pros and cons, and trying to figure out what this means for music and musicians at large. (more…)