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Salons 1 & 2 • Friday evening, 7:30–10:30

The Music of Chen Yi

Jennifer Bain (Dalhousie University), Chair
Chen Yi (University of Missouri-Kansas City), Respondent

John Roeder (University of British Columbia) 

Interactions of Folk Melody and Transformational (Dis)continuities in Chen Yi’s Ba Ban

Marianne Kielian-Gilbert (Indiana University)

Experiencing Chen Yi’s Music // Alternate Lines of Connection, Aesthetic Practice, and Sexual Difference

Nancy Rao (Rutgers University)

“Shi” and Temporality: A Reading of Gestures in Happy Rain on A Spring Night

Abstracts

For 2017, the Committee on the Status of Women is hosting a session on the music of renowned composer, Chen Yi, to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of SMT in 2017, as well as the thirtieth anniversary of the Committee on the Status of Women.

Performed and commissioned by musicians and ensembles, including Yehudi Menuhin, Evelyn Glennie, the Cleveland Orchestra, the BBC Symphony, and the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, Dr. Chen's music “blends Chinese and Western traditions, transcending cultural and musical boundaries.” To delve into her music deeply, the session will have three parts: it will begin with a workshop conducted by Chen Yi on her chamber work, Happy Rain on a Spring Night, for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. The score and a recording will be circulated ahead of time, so the audience and the panel can prepare for the session.

In the second hour, three scholars (John Roeder, Marianne Kielian-Gilbert, and Nancy Rao) will give 20-minute analytical presentations on various aspects of Chen Yi’s music, while the third hour will be devoted to discussion by panel members, the composer, and the audience.

Interactions of Folk Melody and Transformational (Dis)continuities in Chen Yi’s Ba Ban

John Roeder (University of British Columbia)

Chen Yi’s Ba Ban (1999) for solo piano, like many works of Western-trained Chinese composers, situates fragments of evocative traditional folk melody within a post-tonal discourse that is well described by transformation theory. The eponymous qupai (“named tune”) that it quotes is a standard of the sizhu (“silk-and-bamboo”) repertoire of Jiangnan and elsewhere (Thrasher 1989). In sizhu performance practice, the evenly pulsed rhythm of the 68-beat melody is greatly augmented and each pitch is highly “flowered,” that is, decorated. Even the plain version of the tune has a distinctive temporality that arises from its multivalent grouping structure (Roeder 2011), but the partly improvised flowering process also affords special sensations of time that are simultaneously unpredictable locally yet highly directed across longer timespans. Chen’s piece, often simulating the timbral quality of sizhu heterophony with mistuned octaves, reproduces some of these temporal qualities by quoting distinctive phrases and elaborating their pitches. Intermingled with this discourse, though, it presents multilinear threads of motivic transformation through virtuoso figurations typical of Western piano repertoire. This paper examines how the distinctive pitch, rhythmic, and grouping continuity of the tune sometimes takes command of the otherwise transformational temporality of these post-tonal materials, while at other times the transformational logic fractures and absorbs it. Without presuming compositional intent, but in tribute to the 30th anniversary of the SMT CSW, I suggest how this hybridity might resonate with some ideas of third-wave feminist theory.

Experiencing Chen Yi’s Music // Alternate Lines of Connection, Aesthetic Practice, and Sexual Difference

Marianne Kielian-Gilbert (Indiana University)

The expressive landscapes of contemporary art music suggest the potential (and myth) in modernist and cosmopolitan orientations to offer an all-purpose perceptual aesthetics and inclusive musical language, one capable of extending across or undoing national borders. This tension or seeming contradiction between universal aspiration and the lived experience of composers, performers, and listeners intervenes in the gaps and interactions between understanding and experience, and in differing perceptual orientations and relationships of sexual difference and power negotiated within and between musical borders and boundary crossings.

Drawing on the work of musicologist Brigid Cohen (2012, 2014), feminist philosophers Adriana Cavarero (2000, 2003), Luce Irigaray (2002), and Elizabeth Grosz (2005, 2011), and music theorist Nancy Rao (2007, 2014), my brief account of encountering Chen Yi’s music will suggest alternate lines of connection between its aesthetic practices, relational potential, polis, and commemorative impulses. Events and textures interact in such works as As In a Dream (soprano, pipa, zheng), Memory (solo violin), Tu (Burning), and Dragon Rhyme (movement 1) in a variety of ways, emerging from, popping out of, providing backdrops for, and becoming emblematic of specific emotional/affective characters and differential fabrics. Moving between, displacing and traversing—Chen Yi’s music, its dispositions, narratives, encounters and migrations, tangle self and community, borderland and nation, exile and place.

“Shi” and Temporality: A Reading of Gestures in Happy Rain on A Spring Night

Nancy Rao (Rutgers University)

The notion of “Shi” is an aesthetic essence deeply ingrained in Chinese culture, and ubiquitous in descriptions of calligraphy, music and painting all through Chinese history. In treatises on the performance of guqin since Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), for example, “Shi” is frequently evoked as a shaping force in performance. Though a multifaceted notion, “Shi” pertains particularly to a sense of temporality. Whereas in Western music, the notion of temporality, especially the term “rhythm,” brings up concepts of meter, accent, subdivision, duration, all of which are quantifiable, in Chinese music the notion of “Shi” denotes a sense of temporality that is gestural and “task-oriented” (Clayton 2013), thus indivisible and unquantifiable. It shapes the temporal process of musical event. While shaping sound through time, “Shi” cannot be measured by clock-time. Rather, the potential, the energy, and the disposition of “Shi” make it similar to “gesture,” in the sense that is defined by Robert Hatten (2004). Similar to Hatten’s notion of gesture, “Shi” emphasizes the dynamism produced, and the tension that animates various elements in the temporal process. Emanating from “Shi” is an internal energy that gives rise to a temporal process delineated by the timbre and the full dynamic shape, rather than the pulse or meter.

The paper will focus on the effect of “Shi” as an organizing force of Chen Yi’s Happy Rain on A Spring Night (2004), and will offer a reading of the work by considering the disposition and energy of gestural events. The piece, using the Pierrot ensemble, is based on a poem by Du Fu (Tang Dynasty, 712-770). Though the work’s structure follows the principle of Golden Section strictly, the paper will consider the organizing force of “Shi,” and the different ways that gestures play an important role in its aesthetic appeal, and its rendition of the spirit of the poem.