vendredi 14 mars 2014

Xu Xavier Shuang 徐爽 - Silica


Xu Xavier Shuang
Xu started playing the piano at age of 10 but had not made significant progress until he was abandoned by his piano tutor five years later. The situation changed on the day when he ran across some ballet music by Bizet and Tchaikovsky. He was struck by the colorful soundscape made by the orchestra, which established his favor in majestic orchestrations instead of solo piano. He became indulged in classical music and began to study music history and theories. He continued his piano playing, however, by self teaching. It was not long before he was struck by another milestone in music history, Le Sacre du Printemps, which not only made him a sleepless night, but also introduced him a new world of sound, as it did to everyone else a century ago. The new world sounded a bit harsh but absolutely amazing to him. He tried to understand the "new music" phenomenon by exploiting the theories and analyses extensively and ended up in the contemporary realm quite comfortably. Plenty of exposure to the technical level of modern compositions eventually tickled him to write his own music. As a result, he spent most of his hours in high school classes reading and writing scores and by the day of entering college, he had already composed ten pieces, none of which were written for solo instrument though.
In college Xu continued his self education and practice in music while doing his actual profession, physics. Music, itself being physical vibrations, has more links to natural science to his understanding. Generalizations of ideas and techniques and modulations of elements and parameters are present in both fields. The knowledge of science enables Xu to observe music from a unique perspective that is not easily accessible by every musician.
Grew up in Nanjing, China,  Xu was highly active in music events in his neighborhood. As a pianist in Nanjing University, Xu presented a number of works composed by notable contemporary composers, including Messiaen, Boulez, Cowell, Lachenmann, etc., who, as a sad fact, had never been heard in the community. He also toured concertos with the University Orchestra. Currently Xu is a graduate student (in physics, of course) in University of Colorado at Boulder, USA. He performed a Stockhausen piece in the Music College and his own piece at the Chinese New Year Gala 2014. Recently, his cello quartet Si I (2011) has been published by Skinny Dip Publications. His portfolio also contains a violin concerto entitled "Cat", three piano concertos, a quintet for oriental instruments, and many other pieces for various orchestrations.


(by the composer himself)

Theme and title
Silica (2013), for solo piano is in homage of Philip Glass and dedicated to Nicolas Horvath, who will give its premiere in his wondrous project - “the Glass Marathon”.
The name of Philip Glass reminds me of not only the harmonious, hallucinating and infinite landscape of music, but also something really scientific. And that not only refers to the opera storying Einstein or the symphony of plutonium or the soundtrack for sci-fi movies. The name “Glass” itself exhibits some glamorous physical qualities. As one of the longest-known and the deepest-exploited materials, glass is present in various scenes from fancy decorations at home to ultrastrong shields on battlefields. Apparently they are different types of glass; their versatility comes from different ingredients, but all of them share a major component: silicon oxide, or silica. Being one of the most stable and the most abundant compounds, silica has intriguing properties and is actually very complex. It has many distinct crystal structures (polymorphs) though the chemical components are the same and the metamorphism has been a hot topic in physics community.
Enough for the science. A music description of all these interesting aspects has been hovering in my mind for a long time. Given by Nicolas this great chance, the piece is finally born. On the whole scale, the music is based on one hexatone pitch class set 6-9 [012357], which sounds somewhat oriental. It starts from a highly condensed phase in the middle of the piano register and spreads out, as if being heated up, to the entire keyboard. The underlying motifs are the trying-to-be-lyrical lines in three voices: the emphasized notes (white notes, see Instructions), the top and the bottom. Although the pitch class is by no means a consonant hexachord, the “lyrical” voices follow classical harmony progressions characterized by fourths and fifths and chromatic steps, however, in a weakly correlated pattern. A pitch set is presented vertically in one bar and horizontally in every six bars as a cycle, in which each element of the pitch set has been emphasized. To make wanted progressions possible, the original set needs to be manipulated at times, thus creating new tones while retaining the tonal structure (the same class 6-9). After six cycles, all of the six sets in the first cycle are transformed and thereby all twelve base positions of the pitch class have been exhausted. The metamorphosis of the music elements is metaphorical of that of silica and the cycles hint the different phases of the Crystal.

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