Pipa Concerto composed by Hugues Leclair

Towards the Soul Mountain Concert live recording

This piece written for pipa (a Chinese pear-shaped lute), digital keyboard (music synthesizer) and symphony orchestra is developed around four scenes inspired respectively by four chapters from Gao Xingjian's novel, Soul Mountain.
In this contemporary Chinese novel – for which Gao Xingjian won the Nobel Price for literature in 2000 – a true odyssey through ancient China unfolds under our eyes in a kaleidoscope of images, physical, psychic and spiritual sensations…
While reading this masterpiece, I immediately began to think about composing a concerto piece for pipa. The presence of a digital keyboard (synthesizer) connected to a laptop computer is not insignificant in this context for Gao Xingjian’s novel is built according to an essential axis based on the dialectics tradition vs. modernity, which is musically demonstrated by the contrast between the Chinese lute and the electronic instrument.
According to a process similar to the one implemented in the Lettres d’or, inspired by Christian Bobin’s eponymous texts, the composition work draws its inspiration in literary images, without trying to illustrate them. The most direct correlation is in the form, as each symphonic scene is structured according to a formal division of extracts selected from the novel:

- First Scene (Chapter 10)

(Form derived from the Japanese Noh theatre: Jo – Ha – Kyu)
The narrator is in the mountain, in total union with nature surrounding him (Long meditation prelude – Jo)
He is suddenly stricken by fear when he realizes that he is lost in the fog (Sudden rupture, sharp accelerando – Ha)
He runs blindly through the fog, stricken with an intense existential terror (Precipitation towards the final scene – Kyu)
(enfoui dans le brouillard…)

- Second Scene (Chapter 39)

The narrator lies at dawn on a river bank in Miao country, in Southern China, where he attends a courtship ritual: young maidens are singing to lure their lovers.
Then the night becomes darker and he is hailed by a young Miao maiden who seduces him; bitter, he bears off realizing that he is foreign to this primitive culture, imprisoned in his urban modernity …
He attends a seduction dance of a magnificent young black Miao aristocratic maiden, to the sounds of mouth-organs played by courtiers.
Late into the night as he is lying down, he is brought out of his dreams by a despairing call to love of terrible sadness.
(chants d’amour…)

- Third Scene (Chapter 66)

The narrator, attracted by the murmur of the river, walks towards the stream, treading upon the water weeds. His mood changes; he sees himself in a dream walking in the middle of the black river of the Underworld. A heavy breathing reaches his ears and he distinguishes little by little corpses of drowned young women drifting with the current in the gloomy motions of the waves.

(rivière de l’Oubli…)

- Fourth Scene (Chapter 80)

The narrator climbs up a glacier in an extremely icy freezing cold, beset by deep loneliness…In this tremendous silence, he hears a crystalline sound that is transformed into a myriad of sounds, songs, colors, particles, lights. When this sound is at its loudest, he wakes up and realizes that this dream has been induced in his Psyche by the intensity sound signal of a tape recorder playing while he was sleeping.

(limpidité inconnue…)

As regards composition, as in a previous work for Japanese and Western flutes and percussions (Jo-Ha-Kyu), the use of an oriental instrument does not imply that “exotic” equipment was chosen purposely (sound scales, melodies, harmonies, rhythms). Only the tone color of the pipa brings an oriental touch to the musical work, but the instrument is integrated into the orchestra and its treatment is similar as far as musical language is concerned. While using traditional playing modes, the part with pipa also integrates unusual playing modes of this instrument: arco col legno (stratto and battutto), rhythms on the sounding box, microtonal writing with notes on three or four staffs (one per string)…The pipa is captured with the microphone, amplified and broadcast over a loud speaker located close by the interpret.

The digital keyboard, other instrument concertante used in the musical work, is controlled by a computer using synthesized sound software for the creation of new tones from electronic and/or acoustic sources. The sounds used are mostly of evolving nature in time and are obtained through layouts of temporal envelopes assigned to various parameters (amplitude, frequency, dosage of sound sources, filtering, signal processing… ) and with various digital formats. The sounds of the keyboard are delivered by an orchestra of three loudspeakers located directly behind the symphony orchestra, after being merged in the instrumental mass. Volume and spatialization is to be real-time controlled at the console situated in the concert hall (as well as the volume of the amplified sound of the pipa).

The musical work will be created on the 15th of October 2005 in the Claude-Champagne concert hall of the Faculty of Music of the University of Montreal, with the orchestra of the University conducted by Mr Jean-François Rivest who is a great interpret of my orchestra musical work. He has indeed conducted three of my works inspired by Christian Bobin’s Lettres d’or created with the Orchestra of the University of Montreal and with the Laval Symphony Orchestra between 2000 and 2003.

The work is dedicated to the pipa virtuosa Liu Fang, who has commissioned the work, and to Mr. Gao Xingjian, author of the remarkable novel that inspires this musical work.

- Hugues Leclair, Montreal, August 2005

===>>see also: http://www.iforum.umontreal.ca/Forum/2005-2006/20051011/hugues_leclair.html

[World Premiere: October 15, 2005, 8pm, Montreal]

Saturday, October 15, 2005, at 8 p.m.,
Claude-Champagne Hall
220, avenue Vincent-d'Indy, Montreal
(subway station: Edouard-Montpetit)
Information : 514-343-6427

Tickets: 12 $, 10 $, free for students
ADMISSION : 514-790-1245
or at the Claude-Champagne Hall
90 minutes before the beginning in concert