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Radio Filharmonisch Orkest o.l.v. Jaap van Zweden, Measha Brueggergosman, Wu Wei door Gerard ten Hoope

fotografie: Eric Richmond (Unsuk Chin), Marco Borggreve (Jaap van Zweden) 20 maart 2010
'Exotiek, oriëntalisme en folklore in de muziek, het kan geweldige resultaten opleveren. Het kan ook een dramatische valkuil zijn en louter oppervlakkige bepalingen van plaats en tijd opleveren.' Aldus de openingszinnen uit het programmaboekje van de ZaterdagMatinee. Met die dramatische valkuil bleek het wel mee te vallen, al was het een feit dat de compositie waarin een folkloristisch instrument, de sheng, een hoofdrol vervulde het minste indruk maakte. Alleen lag dit niet aan het instrument.
De sheng, of chinees mondorgel, is een folkloristisch instrument dat bestaat uit een mondstuk van hout of metaal, verbonden met een windkamer met daarop een onderbroken cirkel van bamboe of metalen pijpen, waarin zich vingergaten bevinden. Met gesloten ogen doet de klank aan een accordeon denken, maar dan soms ijler en metalig, wat een eerie klankeffect geeft.
Voorspelbare structuur Dat de Nederlandse première van Šu (symbool uit de Egyptische mythologie voor lucht), een uit één deel bestaand concert voor sheng en orkest uit 2009 van de Koreaanse componiste Unsuk Chin (1961), niet veel indruk maakte, kwam onder andere door de clichématige en voorspelbare structuur van het werk: solist - verstild begin - strijkersglissandi - orkest imiteert en schaduwt de solist - solist wordt onderbroken door overweldigende bombastische orkesterupties - opgewonden slagwerk - wilde ritmiek van de solist - terugkeer naar het begin - stilte.
De bewondering ging vooral uit naar Wu Wei, de shengbespeler voor wie het werk is geschreven en die een geweldige virtuositeit en beheersing van het instrument tentoonspreidde. Bewondering ook voor het Radio Filharmonisch Orkest onder leiding van Jaap van Zweden, dat de solist zorgvuldig begeleidde. Maar het werk verdween geruisloos uit het oor, zoals het er geruisloos in was gekomen. En net zoals bij de première van Boogmans La Passione, viel het te betreuren dat het werk zonder enige korte toelichting vooraf werd gepresenteerd; dat de componiste zelf aanwezig was zou toch een aangewezen gelegenheid zijn geweest, evenals een korte uitleg over de sheng door Wu Wei meer dan welkom zou zijn geweest: het instrument zal toch voor het merendeel van het publiek onbekend zijn geweest.

de Volkskrant, Kunst & Cultuur, 15 maart 2010
Eenzame tonen en vuurwerk op een exotisch mondorgel

Frits van der Waa

Ravel, Chin en Tsjaikovski door het Radio Filharmonisch Orkest o.l.v. Jaap van Zweden. 13 maart, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. Radio 4: 16/3, 20.00 uur.De in Azië wijdverbreide sheng heeft zijn gelijke niet in de westerse cultuur. Het instrument mag met recht een mondorgel heten, want het bestaat uit een hele batterij staande bamboe pijpjes, die via een kalebas met mondstuk worden aangeblazen.
In elk pijpje zit een vingergaatje, en de pijp maakt pas geluid wanneer dat wordt afgesloten. Er zijn daardoor veel meer combinaties mogelijk dan op onze bescheiden mondharmonica. In feite lijkt de sheng daarmee meer op de accordeon, alleen heeft die een balg, terwijl de sheng op levende adem werkt. Dat scheelt, zeker in handen van een zo wonderbaarlijke speler als Wu Wei. Samen met het Radio Filharmonisch Orkest tekende hij voor de eerste Nederlandse uitvoering van het sheng-concert Su van Unsuk Chin. Deze 48-jarige, in Berlijn gevestigde Koreaanse exploreert Wu's kwaliteiten tot op de bodem: eenzame tonen, klaaglijker dan Toots Thielemans ze ooit produceerde, miniclustertjes van op elkaar gestapelde toongroepjes, en keffend vuurwerk.
Chin vlecht hier met een scherp oor allerlei orkestrale timbres doorheen, zoals gierende strijkerswindvlagen, knisperend slagwerk, wringende klarinetten en doffe dreunen, met omwoelde stok opgerakeld uit het binnenwerk van de piano. Ondanks de exotische klank van de sheng doet het stuk eerder westers dan oriëntaals aan. Een extra verrassing is een ver orkestje dat vanaf het balkon ijle boventoonmengsels de zaal in laat waaien.
Aan verbeelding schort het Chin niet, maar de ontwikkeling van het werk doet tamelijk willekeurig aan, en het veelvuldig gebruik van lange liggende tonen, een soort muzikaal Pokon waarin alles wel wil gedijen, doet afbreuk aan de spankracht.

The Bearable Lightness of Being

October 10, 2009 by Brian

Frankly, though, the Mahler was secondary in more than just a programming sense considering the evening also featured the American premiere of a Los Angeles Philharmonic co-commission from Unsuk Chin, entitled Su (pronounced shu). It’s a concerto in one movement for orchestra and sheng, a Chinese mouth organ, played here by a modern master of the instrument, Wu Wei. This was one of those quintessential moments for the Los Angeles Philhamonic – a premiere from a major contemporary composer of Korean descent featuring the skills and musical traditions of China joined by the most European of musical institutions, the symphony. Add to this the Venezuelan-born conductor at the head of the orchestra and you pretty much have the definition of multicultural.

It was a very exciting piece that dealt with space and sound produced over a distance. Su refers to an Egyptian symbol denoting air and the piece can be fragile in many ways. The initially continuous rumble of the sheng is met by similar sustained tones in the orchestra both on stage and in a smaller ensemble placed in the rear terrace of the hall. Over the twenty some minutes this pattern is repeatedly broken down and reconstituted amidst percussive elements. Wu Wei became a flurry at times producing sounds as equally percussive as anything from the rear of the stage. It was fascinating to watch and one of those eerily beautiful things. However, Chin, who has not traditionally highlighted non-Western musical elements in her compositions as compared to someone like Tan Dun or Osvaldo Golijov, strictly avoids making the piece an “exotic” showcase of the musical Other. The sheng is the centerpiece of the work, but not in a way that marginalizes it. Instead Chin treats it as a contemporary equal in the dialog of sounds.



The concert began with the U.S. premiere of Unsuk Chin's Su (pronounced shu), a joint commission by the LA Phil and and two other organizations. Su is a one-movement concerto for Sheng (a Chinese mouth organ) and Orchestra. The soloist was Wu Wei, known around the world as one of the foremost players of the Sheng, an instrument that looks kind of like a bong made at home by a Tolkien fanatic with a bicycle horn sticking out of it. It has 37 pipes in it and the range of sound Wei created on it was more than impressive- it can mimic many instruments and also sound unlike anything else, with some sounds approximating things usually created electronically- at least in my experience.

The orchestra contained a phalanx of percussion, with a number of instruments I've never seen, including a tom that had three balls spinning around its inner perimeter and a piano whose strings were played but the keys of which I believe remained untouched through the performance. It was quite an interesting piece as the interplay between the sheng and the orchestra didn't follow the usual competition format of a standard concerto but instead became a conversation held in a number of musical languages. Wei's performance impressed me greatly, though having no prior experience with the instrument, I'm responding to it as one might view a talented magician's performance for the first time. The rest of the orchestra responded well to Dudamel's conducting, with the strings especially making a significant contribution to the success of the whole.
-Labels LAPhil

An instrument beyond description
by LESLEY VALDES

Saturday night’s triumphs began with Korean composer Unsuk Chin’s Su: Concerto for Sheng and Orchestra. The sheng, an update of a 3,000-plus-year-old wind instrument, looks an octopus with a mouthpiece. It can play melody, chords, chromatics or polyphony. It can sound acoustic and electro-acoustic. Centuries ago it was made of bamboo in China and Korea; now it has metal and key mechanisms that permit adjustments I cannot explain.

The foremost virtuoso of the sheng is the Chinese musician Wu Wei, who performed the world premiere of this co-commission this year in Tokyo. Wei is astounding, and so is the piece, which is full of odd and even ethereal beauties. At times the sheng sounded like several oboes and an electrified hurdy gurdy. Chin’s orchestral texture is a weave of woodwinds, harp and strings (some offstage). The percussion include temple gongs, timbales, bamboo, silk paper chimes, glass wind chime and log drum, to mention a few. The music is wistful, thunderous and compelling.

Broad street review


I'm With The Band: Dudamel's Arrival Inspires Devotion
by Matthew Erikson

I better enjoyed 'Su,' a concerto for sheng and orchestra, by the Korean-born, German-based Unsuk Chin. Best known for her violin concerto and operatic adaptation of 'Alice in Wonderland,' Chin had once studied with the great Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti. In fact, the hazy, hallucinogenic sounds at the beginning of 'Su' evoked some of Ligeti's music from '2001.' Exoticism came in abundance from the orchestra's percussion section (with Japanese temple bell, silk paper and water gong) and, naturally, the sheng, a Chinese mouth organ, whose sounds suggest in turn a harmonica, accordion and pan flute. Wu Wei amazed as the soloist.
This was a sonic adventure of the first order. According to the program notes, 'Su' derives from the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for air. Predictably, a delicate, almost ghostly spirit suffused the piece. In the beginning, the orchestra and Wei traded eerie whispers. Chin's musical kaleidoscore later featured a bright rhythmic section and spectral coda.
The music's reliance on bass pedal points and iridescent atmosphere beautifully complemented the Mahler. What's more, the commitment of Wei, orchestra and Dudamel were exceptional.

Unsuk Chin: new Su for chinese Sheng and orchestra

(December 2009)

Unsuk Chin’s new work, Su, pits Chinese sheng against orchestra in virtuoso fashion

Su was written by
Unsuk Chin for Sheng-player Wu Wei, who has done much to transform the ancient mouth organ into a modern performance instrument. He premiered the work at the Suntory Summer Festival in Tokyo last August and the US premiere followed in October in one of Gustavo Dudamel’s opening concerts at the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The Dutch premiere of Su takes place on 13 March at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam within the ZaterdagMatinée series, and the German premiere is in Essen on 4 June as part of Chin’s composer residency at the Philharmonie.

“The title of Su comes from an ancient Egyptian symbol for air, and the 18-minute score opens with the 37-pipe sheng playing a high A so quietly that the pitch seems like it had always been in the air… Last weekend, Dudamel had told the Bowl audience his America knows no North, no South, no Central. In the second half of Su, Chin and Wu Wei extended that to a world with no East and no West. This was an adoration of rhythm tapping into a universal collective unconscious.”
Los Angeles Times

Unsuk Chin describes how she came to composer for the sheng: “I’ve been fascinated by the instrument for many decades, but my interest in writing a concerto was sparked when I heard Wu Wei for the first time in Berlin, as he introduced me to the great virtuosic possibilities and multi-faceted nature of this instrument… Unlike its Korean and Japanese counterparts, the Chinese sheng – which is more than 4000 years old – has been developed into a modernised and highly versatile instrument. Because of the key mechanisms it has the potential for chromaticism, microtones, chords, polyphony, clusters… At times, it can sound like electroacoustic music and the instrument is capable of the eeriest of sounds and of explosive power.”

Color Yellow' a highlight for ASO

By JOSEPH DALTON


TROY … The Albany Symphony Orchestra and conductor David Alan Miller take a broad view on what is American music. Perhaps they’re working off the philosophy of Virgil Thomson, who said, ”The way to write American music is simple. All you have to do is be an American and then write any kind of music you wish.”

A case in point is Huang Ruo, a 31-year-old composer who was born in China and has been a U.S. resident since 1995. His latest work for the ASO, “The Color Yellow: Concerto for Sheng,” was a highlight of this year’s all-American program, offered Friday night at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.

The particulars of the piece might make it seem forbidding: nearly 30 minutes of oddly disjoined and rather unmoored orchestral gestures and effects, including extensive use of percussion, with a nearly continuous intoning in various registers of the Chinese reed instrument known as the sheng. And yet “Yellow” had an extraordinary and riveting effect.

Ruo knows how to sustain drama, and the piece was given a tight and assured performance. Also, the sheng itself is fascinating, sounding like a cross between an accordion and an oboe. Wu Wei was the lively, bouncing soloist, and he offered an encore that felt like a gritty improvisation on some traditional folk songs.

-Times Union March 15, 2008

ASO will premiere exotic compositions

Wu Wei, Sheng soloist, will play with the Albany Symphony Orchestra Friday, March 14, at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.

— Part of the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s mission is to spotlight new music. In recent years, conductor David Alan Miller has extended that focus to include sounds from distant lands to the orchestra’s vocabulary.

None will be more exotic than Friday’s concert. Two works will be premiered: one by Eli Marshall, an American who lives in China, and the other by Chinese composer Huang Ruo. Huang’s piece will feature sheng player Wu Wei as the soloist. Also programmed are pieces by Bernstein and Tsontakis.

American experience

Like every Chinese composer who comes to the United States, Huang Ruo (pronounced Hwong Row) has a story. When he was 19, he won the $15,000 Henry Mancini Award at the 1995 International Film and Music Festival in Switzerland, which led to a commission from a group at Oberlin College. When Huang visited the campus, he was told that if he could learn English, the college would offer him a full scholarship to gain his baccalaureate degree.

“My English was poor. I knew my grammar to read, but I had trouble speaking. I had a small vocabulary,” Huang said from the State University of New York College at Purchase, where he teaches composition.

Huang loved the Oberlin campus, he said. So he decided to give up composing for the next nine months to study English at UCLA. The entire experience of getting around Los Angeles was overwhelming.

“I had no car. I didn’t drive. I took the bus. It took two hours to get a haircut. It was a nightmare,” he said.

Because he had to pass frequent exams to show his progress in learning English, Huang beefed up his studies by watching late night television.

“When I got the jokes, then I knew I was into the language,” he said laughing.

Oberlin finally decided he knew enough to be able to understand the teachers. Huang got his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin and then went to the Juilliard School in New York City, where he received his master’s. He’s currently working on his Ph.D with composer Sam Adler, who calls Huang a wonderful composer.

Huang has done well. His work has been performed by a long list of organizations from such orchestras as the Philadelphia Orchestra and recently by the New York Philharmonic. He has collaborated with New York City Ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, and his chamber music has a worldwide acceptance, even in China where he frequently visits to give lectures.

What Huang does so well is to integrate Chinese sounds with Western techniques, Adler said. The Albany Symphony premiere of his “The Color Yellow” is a prime example. Huang uses the sheng (shung), a wind instrument that is a 3,000-year-old ancestor of the organ. It can produce quarter tones and chords and requires the player to do circular breathing, which is a combination of exhaling and inhaling.

Huang blends those sounds with Western instruments that will use effects like glissandos in the strings and alternate fingerings and different mouth positions for the wind players to create music with no set scale or tonal center.

“It’s very free, like swimming in the ocean,” Huang said.

Wu Wei, one of the world’s great sheng players, will solo.

“The part is hard even for someone with my experience,” Wu said from Berlin, Germany.

Wu, who has premiered other Huang pieces, is known for his ability to play everything from Bach to jazz on sheng. He’ll use the 37-key sheng, which can produce a chromatic scale over a three-octave range in addition to all the other sounds. Although Wu, 38, regularly visits the United States, usually in a traditional Chinese ensemble, he has done about 100 premieres worldwide. The Albany Symphony premiere is important.

“I was looking a long time for a Chinese composer in this generation who could combine the culture with the music for now and the future,” Wu said. “This piece is also good for the sheng.”

Huang’s piece is the real deal, Wu said.

Daily Gazette article

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Huang premiere tests skill of symphony

--Sheng concerto reportedly a first for the U.S.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

 

GERALDINE FREEDMAN

 

— The Albany Symphony Orchestra was in brilliant form Friday night at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.

 

      The musicians needed all their skills because the program was a spectacular one that tested everyone including conductor David Alan Miller.

The world premiere of Huang Ruo’s “The Color Yellow: Concerto for Sheng” with master sheng player Wu Wei, who flew in from Berlin, Germany just for the performance, was a winner.

Huang expertly integrated the orchestra’s colors with the sheng’s multifaceted tones, which sounded like organ stops, harmonica or an ardion. Wu Wei said it’s the first sheng concerto ever played in the United States.

     The sheng is a 3,000-year-old instrument that is about 25 inches long and weighs about four kilo. It’s held at shoulder height because the mouthpiece and the keys are at the bottom end.

The instrument can make tone clusters, chords, whistle-like tones and single notes when the player either exhales or inhales into the instrument.

The piece was a study in how to use sound: as colors, rhythms or as a haunting line that sounded like a cowboy’s harmonica on those lonely, dusty Western plains.

Maracas or wood slaps, trumpet players blowing conch shells and all kinds of string effects interplayed with Wu Wei’s virtuosic playing.

Initially celebratory, the inner section was quite haunting before the thunder returned.

Wu Wei electrified with his passion and involvement.

The large crowd liked the work and Wu Wei took an encore: “The Melody of Jing” from a traditional Shan opera.

He was quite the showman as he snapped out his endings.