Ayres for Fallen Kings

for bass-baritone and piano with hand-held percussion instrument, was premiered by Jonathan de la Paz Zaens and Markus Zugehör in Erfurt in 2009. Each of the three 'ayres' represents a different civilisation and a different era—seventh-century China, fourteenth-century England, and sixteenth-century Mexico.

Bombyx mandarina/Bombyx mori

for soprano, percussion, and string quartet (premiered at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, 26 April 2010) was commissioned for the sixth “Klang der Welt” chamber concert of the Deutsche Oper Berlin 2009-10 season.  Bombyx mandarina M. is the scientific name of the wild silkworm, and Bombyx mori L. that of its domesticated relative, here used to denote the two movements of the work.  The first movement takes one of Mozart’s most enigmatic opening themes (from KV 428/421b) in its ‘larval’ state, and ‘metamorphoses’ it into its remoter harmonic and contrapuntal implications—without, however, wholly dissolving the ‘cocoon’ of 18th-century musical usage.  There are seven distinct developmental episodes, played straight through as an organic composition of 270 bars lasting about nine minutes.  The second movement is an aleatory version of the first, and plays for about twelve minutes: Of the seven episodes, the middle five are directed to be played in a random order which varies with every performance: each player has a pre-assigned turn in directing the next course of events, and the temporary confusion in reaching unanimity may be interpreted as paralleling either the transformational flux of the composer’s mind, or the blind, helpless groping of the Bombyx mori moth in the course of its brief life. 


Broken Madrigals

for soprano, twelve 'cellos, and tam-tam was premiered in St Petersburg in 2011. It is in three sections corresponding to the three parts of the famous speech, 'Blow winds and crack your cheeks', from Act III, Scene II of Shakespeare's King Lear. The first section begins as a six-part madrigal, but a parallel six-part ensemble reinterprets 'blow', 'crack', etc. through Modernist clichés. In the second section the twelve 'cellos are divided into three quartets simultaneously playing a four-part madrigal at a quarter-tone's distance from each other. The last section is a strict thirteen-part canon which quotes motifs from the Ming dynasty zither piece Qu Yuan wen du (Qu Yuan Asks for Advice), the historical Qu Yuan (ca. 340-278 BCE) of the title being a sort of Chinese Lear bewailing his fate to the elements during an unjust exile.

Concerto da camera

for solo guitar, solo 'cello, optional soprano, and twenty strings (Berlin, 2008; revised 2010) is in a sense a quintuple concerto for the five nationalities of its original begetters: the German guitarist Reinbert Evers; the Brazilian ‘cellist Matias de Oliveira Pinto; the Spanish ancestry of the composer's wife, the soprano Andión Fernández; the composer’s own Chinese parentage; and Mr Evers' wife, the Lithuanian pianist Igina Mauzaite.  The concerto is about half an hour in duration, and divides into a slow and a quick movement, in each of which the five musical races combine in varied ways: The opening Passacaglia à la sarabande alternates three statements of a “V-I-L-N-I-U-S” motto (A-A-E-G-A-G-Eb) with three presentations of the Sarabande from J. S. Bach’s Fifth Suite for unaccompanied ‘cello (BWV 1011), each incorporating some figurative or abstract representation of a national element: sheng-type chords, quotations of zither music, and poetic fragments from mediaeval China; the rhythms and harmonies of Brazilian indigenous and popular music; the dissonant polyphony, nonsense syllables, and wide vocal glissandi of the Lithuanian sutartines; and in the optional soprano solo at the movement’s core, some Spanish lines from Cervantes’ Don Quixote.  The concluding Fuga concertante exactly doubles the proportions of the finale of J. S. Bach’s Fourth Brandenburg Concerto (BWV 1049), as well as literally doubling its contrapuntal premise into a double fugue on two Lithuanian folk songs.  As in the Bach, the fugal ritornelli are interspersed with cadenzas for the instrumental soloists, in one place in the form of the actual tracing on the guitar and ‘cello fingerboards of the Chinese brushstrokes for the ideographs meaning ‘broken string’.  During the fifth ritornello, the soprano’s first movement solo recurs in fragmentary guise as a wordless vocalise, so that in this movement the Spanish as well as Chinese presence survives only in allusive form.  On the other hand the Afro-Brazilian elements come into their own as a candomblé ceremony in miniature, the ethnomusicologically documented drumming, cowbell, and clapping effects all mimicked by solo guitar and string orchestra without percussion.  At the end the dense Baroque counterpoint of solo guitar and ‘cello unwind into silence like a rundown motor, by means of well-coordinated coups de grâce administered to the soloists' tuning pegs by three players from the orchestra.


Diese So Geliebte

subtitled 'Incantation for mezzo-soprano, baritone, eight percussionists, two orchestral groups, and two conductors', was premiered on 21st November 2013 during the Impuls Festival für Neue Musik in Sachsen-Anhalt. The two halves of the 16-minute score, divided between Dessau and Magdeburg, were broadcast live from both cities simultaneously by DLR (Deutschlandradio) Kultur and MDR (Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk) Figaro—an unprecedented technological tour de force. The piece sets Rilke's Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes in its entirety but with the lines considerably re-arranged. The chief conceits of the poem are the one-sidedness of Orpheus' love for his dead wife, who even before she turns back to Hades is in spirit already, and irreversibly, indifferent to him; and second, the unexpected prominence given to Hermes—at once emissary of the divine, and allegorically Orpheus' triumphant rival. The line from the poem chosen as title for the piece—'this so-beloved'—emphasises the former, and is pointedly ironic. As there is no third singer to stand in for Hermes, the presence or mention of the god is always represented musically by tuned percussion, honky-tonk pianos, and hand drums, which allude in a generic way to the 'daemonic' exoticism of Balinese gamelan music, but also specifically to a southern Philippine pentatonic scale (D-quarter-flat, E-quarter-flat, G, B-flat, C-flat). A five-note motif recurrently chanted in different keys by both singers is the only conscious quotation in the work: It comes from the solo violin melody in Liszt's Orpheus (1854).


Horologia sinica

for soprano and large orchestra of Chinese instruments was commissioned by the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra for the 50th anniversary of Hong Kong City Hall, and premiered under Yan Huichang at the Hong Kong Arts Festival 2011 with soprano Andión Fernández. The title is Latin for 'Chinese clocks'. The score is divided into three ensembles: The first ensemble of water-sounds and unpitched percussion recreate the time-keeping mechanism of an actual clock—the hydraulic astronomical clock-tower built in Kaifeng in the 11th century. The second ensemble is a reconstruction of two court hymns of the period, faithful as far as possible to the non-equal tunings, seating plan, embellishments, instrumentation, and instrumental ranges of 11th-century Chinese court music. The third ensemble executes a series of microtonal glissandi transcribing with topographic precision the exquisite calligraphy of the doomed emperor Song Huizong, whose disastrous policies led to the loss not only of his dynasty, but also of the clock-tower of Kaifeng.



for seven players and soprano (premiered by the Modern Art Ensemble and Andión Fernández, Berlin, 2007) brings together culturally disparate musical objects which share nothing but the personal taste of their collector.  The opening Mozart minuet (KV 576b) is broken up and expanded by piano and quarter-tone-sharp string trio, then gives way to a dissonant collage of ancient Korean, Japanese, and Tibetan sonorities superimposed in turn, before concluding with the Chinese folksong ''Molihua'' sung unharmonised by soprano onto the undamped piano strings. 



for high voice, two double basses, piano resonance, and percussion (premiered at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, 26 April 2010) was commissioned for the sixth Klang der Welt chamber concert of the Deutsche Oper Berlin 2009-10 season. It is an arrangement of the Chinese folksong Molihua ('Jasmine Flower') in a rather peculiar scoring which may be taken to represent two kinds of violence: the violence of nature, which is the ultimate background to all natural beauty, however fragile; and the violence of man, present even in so delicate an act as the plucking of a flower.


Notas para una cartografía de Filipinas

for piano and lap-gong (premiered by Kyoko Okuni, Münster, 2008) supplements the strictest keyboard polyphony with palm- and fingernail taps and tremolos, plucked and scraped string effects, and finally a gangsa (northern Philippine lap-gong) to transport the listener from the mediaeval courts of China and Japan through each of the three geographical regions of the Philippine Islands.



derives its title from the Chinese qi for "seven" and cento from settecento, producing a hybrid Sino-Italian term for denoting the Sino-European eighteenth century, the age of chinoiserie. In Moo-lee-wha/Molihua the voice sings the Chinese folk song Molihua ("Jasmine Flower") from the province of Jiangsu, while the pianist renders another version of the same tune (as recorded in John Barrow's Travels in China of 1804) directly on the piano strings as if on an artificially enlarged Chinese zither, accompanying the singer's slightly different melody at the fourth below, so that the two variants seem to echo and embellish each other in the manner of Chinese heterophony. By contrast the wholly European Corde natus, setting a fourth-century Latin text by Aurelius Prudentius, adds a vocal part to the A minor prelude of The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, in the tradition of the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria. The last piece, Zaitian, features a Chinese Pater noster used in by the Jesuits in 18th-century Beijing, here accompanied by a mystical halo of trills derived from Baroque word-painting which conceals a strict canon at the second.

Raven Mantra

atomises Edgar Allan Poe's iconic poem The Raven into its constituent vowels and consonants, but also deconstructs it with onomatopoeic effects (e.g. lid-slamming and bird-calls), carrying to its logical conclusion the American poet's obsession with the sounds rather than the meanings of words. At the climax of the work, the three performers simultaneously recite translations of The Raven from each other's countries. A partial premiere (of the second half) with iPad timer, lasting exactly 16'24", took place at the Ethnological Museum, Berlin, in December 2013. The score may also be performed without timer, and in its entirety would then last an hour or more.

Seven Preludes to a Prelude

for unaccompanied violoncello was composed in Berlin between 27th March and 8th April 2010.  It lasts a total of between fifteen and twenty minutes, and is dedicated to the ‘cellist Matias de Oliveira Pinto.  The prelude before which these seven preludes are meant to be played is that which opens J. S. Bach’s Fifth ‘Cello Suite (C minor), BWV 1011.  They comprise a miniature suite of their own, and were written at Mr. de Oliveira Pinto’s request as a companion piece to the Bach suite, the scordatura tuning of which (g—d—G—C) it shares.  In all the preludes the open g string is extensively used, as well as the natural harmonics unique to it, and consequently the whole work is unplayable without Bach’s scordatura.  Each of the seven preludes corresponds to the seven movements of the Bach suite, alluding to their historical character in only a vestigial way, so that the French Baroque title of each prelude (Prélude, Allemande, etc.) is only indicated parenthetically.  Otherwise there are no specific quotations from the Bach suite.

Souvenir des Song

for solo 'cello was revised for its publication in 2012. It consists of a theme deriving from one of the Southern Song composer Xiong Penglai's zither (guzheng) pieces, followed by one variation for each of the theme's eight phrases. Something of Xiong's refusal to serve the conquering Mongols may be read into the alternating pathos and violence of the variations.

Souvenir des Tang

for violin and prepared piano was written to commemorate the restoration of Hong Kong to China in 1997, but not published until 2011. It is a theme, five variations, and fugue based on one of the twelve 'ritual melodies' preserved from the Tang dynasty by the philosopher Zhu Xi. Theme and variations are for violin alone, and the prepared piano only enters in the middle of the fugue.

Spohr's Last Thoughts

for clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, 'cello, and piano was premiered by Quatuor Mistral in Berlin in 2009, and was composed to remedy the regrettable neglect of the 150th anniversary of the death of Louis Spohr that year. The piece quotes no themes from his music (and in fact contains no themes at all), but evokes its atmosphere through a loose succession of characteristic gestures, as if to suggest the meandering self-repetition of a senile genius at his last gasp.

"Superklavier" Sonata

for piano was a work-in-progress undergoing sporadic revision between 1992 and 2012, when it was finally published in Berlin. The very title makes explicit a facetious rivalry with Beethoven's Hammerklavier, the four separate movements of which add up to 1,167 bars, whereas Superklavier is in one large forty-five-minute movement of 1,634 bars. The structural implications of the closing double fugue of the Hammerklavier are in Superklavier elaborated into a triple fugue that combines not just the three principal themes of the preceding thirty-five minutes, but also incorporates most of their subsidiary ideas as counter-subjects or episodes. These elements of musical 'gigantism' continually push against self-imposed limits, in struggling against which, paradoxically, their grotesque character only becomes more pronounced. In terms of instrumental idiom, tonal grammar, chromatic usage, and the formal integration of sonata and cyclic form, these limits may be defined simply as what was 'in the air' in Hapsburg Europe in ca. 1820-30.

Symphony No. 4, "Souvenir des Ming"

(Jeunesses Musicales commission, premiered by the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra under Dmitri Jurowski, Shanghai International Arts Festival, 2006) is a passacaglia and fugue on fragments of Ming dynasty temple hymns, that uses fractal proportions to enable the chromatic polyphony of J. S. Bach and the equal temperament discovered by the Ming musicologist Zhu Zaiyu to engage in a kind of conceptual dialogue.  At the Golden Ratio a series of nine fugal episodes begins, each from the third onwards the added lengths of the previous two; the last episode, a fifty-four-part fugue in strict eight-part invertible counterpoint, leads to an aleatory stretto in 105 parts.     


Symphony No. 5, "Kunstkammer"

(Deutsches Kammerorchester Berlin commission, premiered by Andión Fernández, Trio Neuklang, and the Deutsches Kammerorchester Berlin under Mikhail Jurowski, Berlin, 2006) is an encounter between the strict contrapuntal devices of Frescobaldi, the Turkish melodies with four quarter-tones notated by Demetrius Cantemir, and the court music of Qing China based on a fourteen-note "octave" with twelve eighth-tones.  For example, in the middle of the first movement, the soprano fits the last Ming emperor's suicide speech to Frescobaldi fragments scored with accordion pitch-bends, 'cello harmonics, clarinet multiphonics, harp vibrato, and solo strings tuned a quarter-tone sharp and flat. At the climax of the second movement, thirty-six Ottoman modes and twelve Ottoman rhythmic cycles are deployed to create an innovative combination of fugue and variation form.


Verleih uns Frieden

for soprano, eight-part choir, organ, percussion, and optional children's choir, was commissioned by the Evangelische Kirchengemeinde Berlin-Wannsee in 2012—"Reformation and Music" Year in Germany—and premiered in Kirche am Stölpchensee. It is based on the Lutheran chorale, "Verleih uns Frieden", written by Martin Luther in 1529 as a pan-Christian prayer for peace after the Turkish capture of Budapest. The archaic character of the hymn is omnipresent, and constantly elaborated by techniques familiar from Sweelinck to Reger, but also at one point combined with an early 18th-century Chinese Pater Noster, in oecumenical allusion to the composer's Chinese parentage and Jesuit schooling.


Wesendonck Sonata

for mezzo-soprano, viola (or 'cello), and piano was written in 2013 as an homage to Wagner in the bicentennial of his birth, and reinvents his famous Wesendonck Lieder as a five-movement trio in which the newly composed string obbligato part simultaneously comments on the poems sung, while making intricate chamber music with the voice and piano. The original tonal sequence of G major—C minor—D minor—C minor—A-flat major is transposed to F major—B minor—C-sharp minor—B minor—F major, incorporating the Romantic diabolus in musica within a Classical palindrome, and favouring keys equally suited to voice and string instrument.

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