Plum Blossoms (orchestra version) (2000) · 7 min

for Chinese pipa, string orchestra, glockenspiel, electronic sounds

solo pipa, glockenspiel, strings, fixed media (keyboard controller, Mac laptop running Max/MSP)

Commissioned by Jung-Ho Pak and the San Diego Symphony

Program Note

Described as “ultra-exotic” by the Los Angeles Times, Plum Blossoms uses as its source material audio samples performed by the Chinese pipa virtuoso Min Xiao-Fen, recorded with the assistance of David Wessel at U.C. Berkeley’s CNMAT (Center for New Music and Audio Technologies) in 1996. A few years later, as a first year Assistant Professor at Northeastern University, I “scattered and reconstituted” (LA Times) these samples via cutting, splicing, transposing, reversing, and changing speeds, using the software tools BIAS Peak, and MOTU’s Digital Performer, with the goal of gaining acceptance to the 1999 International Computer Music Conference (ICMC), held that year at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

Little did I know that this experience would initiate a twenty-year trajectory of work with Chinese traditional instruments and travel to China that would profoundly affect my life, including a residency at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing as a Senior Fulbright Research Scholar (2011), and later an appointment as a “Special Professor” at the China Conservatory of Music’s new Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Chinese National School of Music (2016).

The very opening of Plum Blossoms briefly references the well-known Chinese composition Dance of the Yi People before devolving into increasingly noise-based elements. Not long after its premiere, Min Xiao-Fen requested a version to be performed live, which I created for pipa solo, electronic sounds, strings, and glockenspiel, premiered by the San Diego Symphony under the baton of maestro Jung-Ho Pak on January 29, 2000. It was later reprieved by the Mimesis Ensemble under the baton of Scott Seaton (and masterminded by Mohammed Fairouz) at New York’s Merkin Hall (also featuring a work and the presence of Gunther Schuller, which was a real thrill for me).

After several performances in both its electroacoustic and orchestral versions, Plum Blossoms was featured in an article by John Winzenburg titled “Spanning the Timbral Divide: Insiders, Outsiders, and Novelty in Chinese-Western Fusion Concertos,” in the edited volume China and the West: Music, Representation, and Reception (2017) published by the University of Michigan Press.

An official recording of the orchestral version of Plum Blossoms will be released on the BMOP/Sound label in 2023, featuring Min Xiao-Fen on pipa, and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the direction of Gil Rose.

View Score
Concert Programs

Granier, Benoit. “Language and Culture Intertwinement in Music: An effort to develop intercultural language (and notation) in Music.” In Mary Sherman (Ed.) International Opportunities in the Arts. Vernon Press. Wilmington, Delaware. (September 3, 2019).

De Ritis, Anthony (2018, January 1). “Music and Cultural Diplomacy.” In Kimasi L. Browne (English) and Zhang Boyu (Ed.), in Musicking the Soul (Published in English and Chinese). Beijing: Central Conservatory of Music (CCOM) Press. Beijing, China.

Winzenburg, John. “Spanning the Timbral Divide: Insiders, Outsiders, and Novelty in Chinese-Western Fusion Concertos,” in Yang, Hon-Lun, and Saffle, Michael (Eds.). China and the West: Music, Representation, and Reception. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press (2017).