Monday, May 20, 2019

Lei Liang: Using music to free the imagination

This week we begin our series of Senior Composer profiles for the 2019 edition of June in Buffalo by presenting the work of Lei Liang, whom we are happy to welcome in his first visit as Festival faculty. Born in China in 1972, Liang has authored works that have been described as “hauntingly beautiful and sonically colorful” by The New York Times, and as “far, far out of the ordinary, brilliantly original and inarguably gorgeous” by The Washington Post.

Winner of the 2011 Rome Prize, Lei Liang has received other important distinctions, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Aaron Copland Award, a Koussevitzky Music Foundation Commission and a Creative Capital Award. His concerto Xiaoxiang (for saxophone and orchestra) was named a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music. He has been commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, the Taipei Chinese Orchestra, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, the Heidelberger Philharmonisches Orchester, the Thailand Philharmonic, pipa virtuoso Wu Man, the Fromm Music Foundation, Meet the Composer, Chamber Music America, the National Endowment for the Arts, MAP Fund, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, the Manhattan Sinfonietta, Arditti Quartet, Shanghai Quartet, the Scharoun Ensemble of the Berlin Philharmonic, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, New York New Music Ensemble and Boston Musica Viva.

(Lei Liang)

Lei Liang studied composition with Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Robert Cogan, Chaya Czernowin, and Mario Davidovsky, and received a Bachelor's and Master degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music and a PhD from Harvard University. He taught in China as a distinguished visiting professor at Shaanxi Normal University College of Arts in Xi'an; served as honorary professor of Composition and Sound Design at Wuhan Conservatory of Music and as visiting assistant professor of music at Middlebury College. He is professor of music at the University of California, San Diego, where he served as chair of the composition area and Acting Chair of the Music Department. Starting from 2018, Lei Liang serves as the Artistic Director of the Chou Wen-Chung Music Research Center in China.

Seven portrait discs with his music have been released on several specialized labels, along with more than a dozen compilation discs. Between 2013 and 2016, Liang served as Composer-in-Residence at the Qualcomm Institute, where his multimedia works preserve and reimagine culture through combining advanced technology and scientific research. In 2018, Liang returned to the Institute as its inaugural Research Artist-in-Residence.

Also active as a scholar, Liang has published articles in many specialized magazines, including Contemporary Music Review (on the music of Chinese composer Xiaoyong Chen), Sonus, and the Journal of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. He has particular interest in the research and preservation of traditional Asian music, but his texts also examine issues at the intersection of national identity and music, as he did in "About being Chinese", which provides an interesting discussion of the place of Western Classical music in contemporary Chinese society. Liang himself, however, conceives music as "a way to free one's imagination from the artificial confines of cultural identities".

During June in Buffalo, local audiences will have several opportunities to hear Liang’s music. On June 5th, the Mivos Quartet will play Serashi Fragments, from 2006. The title is a reference to a Mongolian musician from the last century whose work Liang helped preserve by co-producing a release containing his historical recordings. Although not an imitation of the Mongolian traditional music that inspired it, the center section of the Liang's quartet does contain a brief allusion to this repertoire. The work has enjoyed an active performance history: after its premiere by the Arditti Quartet is has been taken up by JACK and the Left Coast Ensemble, among other groups.

Liang's piano solo My Windows will be performed at Dal Niente’s evening concert on June 7th by Winston Choi. The work is in four movements, titled Tian, Seven Rays of the Sun, Magma, and Pausing, Awaiting the Wind to Rise… Finally, on June 8th, Signal Ensemble will perform Aural Hypothesis, from 2010, a composition for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and vibraphone. The composer has described the piece, which was inspired by a comment made by Chou Wen Chung and is dedicated to him, as “a quasi-fantastical study on how lines may find expression in sound.”

(Liang's Seven Rays of the Sun, from My Windows)

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