On October 2, the Orchid Ensemble presented a concert in one of the most aesthetically pleasing venues in Iowa City. The Old Capital senate chamber was filled with sounds of ancient Chinese instruments, including an ehru, a zheng, and a variety of percussion instruments including marimba, dumbek, def, Tibetan bells, Turkish bells, Thai gongs, Buddhist temple bowls, Beijing opera gongs, cymbals, crotales, and Chinese temple blocks. The concert presented a fascinating opportunity to see, touch, and hear instruments that have been a part of Chinese music for nearly 3,000 years.
The Orchid Ensemble has been making a big impact in the contemporary music scene since they formed in 1997. Based in Vancouver, Lan Tung, Yu-Chen Wang, and Jonathan Bernard formed an ensemble that blends the use of ancient Chinese instruments and musical traditions with contemporary compositions. The ensemble frequently commissions composers from Canada and the United States to create new works based on ancient music and cultures.
The Orchid Ensemble was an exceptional trio and it was a pleasure to watch the players and the variety of instruments in motion. Concert order was thoughtfully planned with a balance of tempo, mood, and cultural influences. The group has made a conscious effort to study and learn various Asian musical traditions and apply these traditions to new contemporary works. They are highly respectful of the musical cultures they blend into their own repertoire. They have spent a considerable amount of time traveling and studying in Asia to learn many musical traditions.
Maqam: Prelude and Dance – Zhou Ji, Shao Guangchen and Li Mei, arr.: Mei Han
Maqam means mode in Arabic, and it is a collection of notes with rules defining its melody and mood. The prelude begins with a zheng solo in rhapsodic fashion followed by solos by marimba and erhu before joining together in an upbeat dance.
Xiao He Tang Shui – arr. Lan Tung (2010)
Traditionally a folksong from southwest China, this piece featured a large vocal range and showcased lyric and legato lines mixed with improvisation for singer, zheng, and marimba.
The Winged Horses of Heaven – Moshe Denburg (2001)
This piece was inspired by the tale of mythical and magical ancient Chinese war horses. Polyrhythm is featured prominently in the piece and creates an exciting and steady unifying device.
Endless Sands of the Taklimakan – Moshe Denburg
This was an unexpected addition to the concert program, showing a contrasting piece from composer Moshe Denburg. This piece was inspired by the idea of a caravan moving slowly through the desert when as storm suddenly occurs and eventually the desert returns to calm.
Dancing Moon – Lan Tung (2009)
The text of this piece is from another Chinese folksong, but the only thing original in this composition are the words. Tung’s arrangement features polymeter, themes, and rhythmic variation. The vocal style featured a limited range and more modal voice quality.
From a Dream – Dorothy Chang (2010)
This sectional composition was inspired by film footage from China’s Yellow Mountain. The sectional style of this piece represents the various states of the mountain and seasons of the year. This piece was originally presented while showing images and videos of Yellow Mountain so that more of the senses were engaged during the performance.
The Gallop – traditional arr. Lambert Lum, Orchid Ensemble
This crowd favorite imitated warriors and their horses returning from a victorious battle.
Ya Ribon – traditional arr. R. Raine-Reusch, M. Denburg and Orchid Ensemble
A group of Persian Jews traveled the Silk Road and made their home in China and eventually assimilated into Chinese culture. The Jewish musical influence still survives and is featured in this arrangement of the folksong. The ehru sounds more like a gypsy violin than a traditional Chinese instrument in this piece.
Bengalila – J. Michael, R. Raine-Reusch & Orchid Ensemble
This piece is a Bengali folk song and displays Indian musical influence. The piece again was in two sections, an opening improvisatory section followed by a fast rhythmic dance.
For more information about the Orchid Ensemble, individual ensemble members, and information about traditional Chinese instruments, please see this link: http://www.orchidensemble.com/.
For more detailed program notes from Sunday’s concert, please see this link: http://www.uiowa.edu/~cnm/46.111002.html.
For more upcoming events from The University of Iowa’s Center for New Music, please see this link: http://www.uiowa.edu/~cnm.