ClarinetFest® 2023 in Review
ClarinetFest® 2023 Day 3
Celebrating Our Global Community with
Renowned Chinese Composers
by Charlotte MacDonald
A headliner concert was presented on July 7th by Xiaoting Ma, assisted by Chun Paige Li on piano. The recital took place in Salon D of the Denver Marriott Westminster, decorated with a high ceiling and stately drapes which matched the tranquil mood of the early afternoon audience. The recital featured uncommonly performed compositions for clarinet and piano by Chinese composers of different generations and styles.
The recital began with Morning Song for Clarinet and Piano (1980) by Qigang Chen (b. 1951), one of the most performed living Chinese composers. The beginning of the piece was flowing and rhapsodic with delicate ornamentations reflective of the influence of traditional Chinese music. Following a brief but expressive cadenza, the piece moved into a second section in a lively, syncopated character energized by Ma’s bouncy, vibrant tone. Following another brief cadenza featuring shimmering altissimo trills, the piece shifted back into the opening peaceful character, though the middle section was alluded to by the infusion of jazzy harmonies. Morning Song was an energizing and evocative opening to the recital and prompted lively applause from the audience.
Following a brief discussion surrounding the programmed composers and their styles and influences, Ma began the second work, Rhapsody for Clarinet and Piano (2016) by Yang Qiu (b. 1981). The piece was characterized by sudden shifts between two characters: a stately, regal mood conveyed by a plodding piano line and a soaring clarinet melody, and an aggressive, pointed character showcasing energetic runs and rapid staccato. This interaction embodied the inspiration of the composition, the mythical Chinese god of creation, Pangu. The work ended with lively running passages in the chalumeau register, ending on an energetic note with Ma’s flawless finger technique.
The next work stepped back to an earlier era in Chinese music with Northern Jiangsu Variations (1952) by Wu Zhang (1927-2005). Ma introduced the piece by explaining that it is considered the first Chinese composition for clarinet and piano in Western style, featuring a traditional Chinese country song in a theme and variations form. The theme, presented in a charming dialogue between the clarinet and piano, was vocal and expressive in character, evoking the country mood of the folk melody. The work then progressed through multiple variations, ranging from slow and dark to rhythmic and detached. The final variation ended in some of the most rapid finger technique of the recital, ending on a vibrant note that inspired resounding applause and cheers from the audience.
The next piece, Jiangnan in Misty Rain (2021) by Wu Na (b. 1987), shifted to a more tranquil, meditative mood. The work was the most recently composed on the program, inspired by the misty bridges and canals in Hangzhou city. The opening conjured an image of a foggy morning, carried by Ma’s impossibly delicate soft dynamics and rainy pitter-patter of the piano. The sleepy character gave way to a brief interlude, incorporating both soaring, vocal lines and more rhythmic, dance-like figures. Returning to the mysterious material from the beginning, Ma’s delicate soft tone faded away to an echo that hung in the air and held the peaceful attention in the room even after the sound had stopped.
The final work, Chinese Rhapsody No. 3 (1989) by An-lun Huang (b. 1949), returned the recital to a lively, energetic mood and served as a rousing finale. In this work, Huang imitates the suona, the Chinese relative to the oboe, through sensitive vocal lines and flourishing ornaments rooted in Chinese traditional idioms. This traditional idiom was accompanied by more modern inflections, including chromatic embellishments and bends and glissandi. The work concluded with brilliant technique and a decisive, weighty ending, inspiring cheers from the audience and ending the performance on a bright, energizing note.