Purple Mountains (in progress)

(expected 2023)

  • 2222, 4221, timpani+2 perc, strings

  • Duration: 8-10 minutes

  • Commissioned by a consortium of orchestras led by the Hartt Orchestra, Edward Cumming, director

  • Available in January 2023 for consortium members with two-year exclusivity; available in January 2025 for the public

  • Program notes:

    Purple Mountains is an orchestral overture filled with dramatic contrast, graceful melodies, and energetic rhythms. Musical ideas are drawn from the opera, When the Purple Mountains Burn, which explores the connection between Iris Chang and Shiro Azuma and the Nanking Massacre in China during World War II. Just like how the opera asks the question — what is it in us humans that could unleash the catastrophic power for one part of humanity to massacre and defile another part of humanity — The orchestral overture will depict the heavy subject in an abstract and absolute musical way: the fast whirlwind of panic and destruction, melancholy melody with dark and heavy harmonies, and uprising waves and textures that hijack the piece into a thought-provoking ending. For more information and musical ideas from the opera, please visit scene 10-11 and 14-15.

The Last Hive Mind

(2021)

  • 2222, 4221, timpani+2 perc, piano, strings

  • Duration: 7 minutes

  • Written for Boston Modern Orchestra Project & Aspen Conducting Academy Orchestra

  • Program notes:

    The Last Hive Mind was written for conductor Glen Adsit and the Foot in the Door Ensemble at the Hartt School. Inspired by the British TV series, Black Mirror, and the general idea of recent increasing debate around artificial intelligence and how it will affect our daily lives as human beings. I put some of my thoughts, perspectives, and imagination into this work. Thanks to Glen for coming up with the dynamic and matching title — it also helped in the shaping of how musical narrative navigates its way throughout.

    Mainly, I was struck by the idea in one episode of "Black Mirror," the "Metalhead." After the unexplained collapse of human society, a group of people tried to flee from the robotic "dogs," a vast hive mind with metal built bodies and powerful computerized "brains." The failure was almost predictable. However, a detail that struck me the most was the reason that these human beings got trapped in the crazy chase was because of their effort of searching a comforting gift for a very sick child — a fluffy teddy bear. In The Last Hive Mind, two forces fight with each other — the robotic, rhythmic, seemingly unbreakable "hive mind" music, versus the dreamy, melodic, and warm "lullaby" tune. Lastly, presented by the piano, the "lullaby" music is also a quote from my mini piano concerto, Canton Snowstorm. As the title indicates, this work depicts the struggle between the artificial intelligence, or the hive mind, and the dimming humanity; furthermore, the work implies the final collapse and breakdown of the last hive mind followed by its triumph.

Sweeping and Weeping

(2021)

  • For chamber orchestra (1121, 1110, 2 perc, piano, strings)

  • Duration: 8 minutes

  • Commissioned by the International Mizzou Composer's Festival for Alarm Will Sound Ensemble

  • Program notes:

    Sweeping and Weeping was written in April 2020, when the pandemic hit and everything was canceled, postponed, or shut down. In an effort to find something positive, I initially thought of "sweeping" as a representation of the virus storm that took over our lives in the most unexpected ways. "Weeping” represents my reaction to the devastating loss that so many experienced. Like most of my pieces, Sweeping and Weeping began from these initial impressions, but the music itself navigated a way out with its own logic. The work explores rhythmic drive, lyrical tension, and release, with different timbres and colors. The music alternates between fast and slow passages that ultimately mingle into one.

   

Miss Ying-Ning

(2021)

  • For string orchestra

  • Duration: 16 minutes (without narration); 20 minutes (with narration)

  • Adapted from string quartet version for Boston Modern Orchestra Project

  • Narration text by Joshua Anderson

  • Program notes:

    Miss Ying Ning was commissioned by the Composers Guild of New Jersey for the Argus Quartet’s 2019-20 Season. It draws inspiration from a story in Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, a collection of Chinese folk tales by Qing dynasty scholar Pu Songling. In seven movements, the music depicts the plotline of how the man and the half-fox girl meet, fall in love, get married, and fight for justice together.

    Miss Ying Ning can be played with or without narration; the text can be narrated by any performer or performers, or a narrator.

    Thanks to the Argus Quartet, who came up with the brilliant idea as well as the text that is added in between movements, and to my friend, clarinetist Dr. Joshua Anderson, who helped refining the text with delicate retain of the originality of the story, as well as a fine touch of the lyrical artistry.

Out Came the Sun

(2017)

  • 1111, 1000, timpani, celesta, strings

  • Duration: 12 minutes

  • Commissioned and premiered by Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

  • Program notes:

    Since the time of Brahms, there has been a tradition among certain composers to write lullabies for young children, which I unavoidable did for my baby son Leo, during my recent pregnancy before he was born. Imagining sweet happiness, warm emotions and love at first sight, I weaved these fanciful thoughts into a lullaby. The first week of being a new mother was absolute bliss. What I did not anticipate were the dark emotions, which developed rapidly after Leo was born. Suddenly, tears overcame me for no reason and feelings of mourning, anxiety and loss suddenly appeared without warning.

    After childbirth, according to the American Pregnancy Association, around 80 percent of women experience various postpartum mood swings often referred to as “baby blues.” Fortunately, these “blues” usually go away within two to three weeks. Gradually, my tears dried out and I started being able to trust the joy of being a new mother.

    While the depression lasted for a short time (compared to the 40-week pregnancy, or to the longer process of raising a child), the experience was so profound the I felt compelled to compose a work about it. The music I have composed suggests the extreme bliss of childbirth, the melancholy and struggling thereafter and the mysterious transformative process which leads to final resolution and peace.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

(2015)

  • 2222, 4331, timpani+3, harp, strings

  • Duration: 10 minutes

  • Premiered by New Jersey Symphony Orchestra; JoAnn Felleta, conductor

  • Program notes:

    Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night was inspired by Dylan Thomas’ poem. However, the music itself was more independently developed. There are two themes -- one is introduced in a vague and hidden way and being suppressed until the climax arrives; while the other is being varied and presented for many more times through the work. These two themes finally mingle together. The whole process is also a realization from the dark to the bright. The cover was designed by Alissa Yang exclusively for this work.

Overture to "The Siege"

(2012)

  • 3333, baritone saxophone, 4331, timpani+3, piano, strings

  • Duration: 7 minutes

  • Premiered by Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Julia Tai, conductor

  • Program notes:

    Overture to The Siege reflects and anticipates the events in the opera and depicts the restraint, frustration, and confused feelings people might experience when besieged. In fact, as the novel Fortress Besieged and the opera The Siege imply, maybe all of us are besieged in some way. Even if some people can break the restraint, they eventually will find that the so-called ‘new free world’ is just a more extensive siege that embraces the previous small world. Living a life sometimes equals dealing with all kinds of troubles. And absolute freedom is just a beautiful dream.

    The opening of the Overture sets an evocative mood with free rhythms and breathy sound effects. One instrumental color that stands out is the baritone saxophone, exploited here for the biting snarl of its low range in a lively Allegretto section.