Ping-Pong (Western orchestra version) (2006) · 18 min

Concerto for Pipa and Symphony Orchestra

2 flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, 2 percussionists, harp, pipa solo, strings

Commissioned by and written for Min Xiao-Fen

Program Note

In 2004 I completed the three movement Concerto for Pipa titled Ping-Pong at the request of pipa virtuoso, Min Xiao-Fen. It was premiered by the Taipei Chinese Traditional Orchestra under the direction of Min Lekang, with Min Xiao-fen as soloist, on December 11, 2004. The performance was held at Zhong Cheng Auditorium, Zhong Shan Hall, Taipei, Taiwan, in an event honoring Min’s family. 

It seemed that everyone was confused by my chosen title, Ping-Pong, stating that the music I composed didn’t seem to resemble anything like a ping-pong match. My intent was to reference the bringing together of East and West and “Ping-Pong Diplomacy,” (乒乓外交) the historical opening between the United States and the People’s Republic of China in the early 1970s. It was the goodwill exchange of each nation’s table tennis (ping-pong) players during the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships in Nagoya, Japan, that marked a thaw in Sino-American relations, and paved the way for a visit to Beijing by President Richard Nixon in April 1972.

The titles of the three movements reference events that led up to that occasion:

  1. Huangshan Mountains
  2. Invitation (6 April 1971)
  3. Diplomacy

In the premiere performance of Ping-Pong, I introduced some electronic music elements; in particular, interactive real-time processing of Min Xiao-Fen’s pipa playing within her cadenza. I owe special thanks to my friend and former student, Howie Kenty, who helped to create the digital effects software in Max/MSP. The combination of Chinese traditional instruments and the real-time digital signal processing of their sounds is a creative direction that continues in my work today.

Composing Ping-Pong not only propelled me to new directions in my original music composition, but also instilled in me a great appreciation for cultural immersion and a deeper interest in cultural diplomacy. I began to seek opportunities precisely at this intersection. In 2006, two such opportunities presented themselves, I began working closely with a new NGO (non-governmental organization) working closely with UNESCO called the Melody for Dialogues Among Civilizations Association (MDACA), and I was awarded nearly $1 million from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to establish a three-year summer-based cultural exchange program called the Fusion Arts Exchange in Music.

Ping-Pong was later arranged in a version for Pipa and Western orchestra. The “Western version” was first performed by the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Markand Thakar, at the Kraushaar Auditorium, Baltimore, Maryland, on October 4, 2006. Then again by the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, at Yale’s Woolsey Hall, under the direction of Jung-Ho Pak, on March 24, 2007. Each performance featured Min Xiao-Fen as soloist, as does an official recording of the Western version scheduled to be released in early 2023 by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the direction of Gil Rose on the BMOP/sound label.

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Concert Programs

Ping-Pong, Concerto for Pipa and Orchestra (arranged for Pipa and Piano) is published in Selected Works for Pipa Composed by Anthony Paul De Ritis, Central Conservatory of Music Press, Beijing, (October 2016).