Behind the Back
pipa and electronics
Commissioned by The Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra for Su Yun-Han
Available on Crossings: Contemporary Music for Chinese Instruments, Albany Records (pictured right)
List of Performances
Behind the Back was commissioned by The Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra as part of a cultural exchange project between the Taiwanese ensemble and American composers. Commissioned works were premiered at the National Theater of Taipei during the summer of 2016 and recorded for a CD release with Albany Records the following year (Crossings: Contemporary Music for Chinese Instruments).
When preparing for the project, I searched long and hard for a poetic concept that could drive my piece and serve as a bridge between American and Chinese cultures. I quickly learned that, in Taiwan and China, the pipa has transcended the status of a mere musical instrument to that of a major cultural icon. I then discovered the famous murals of the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China, which depict musicians performing while dancing and flying though the air. One image – that of a woman playing pipa behind her back – is so iconic that many Chinese dancers train in order to recreate her graceful pose. As an avid lover of all things rock-and-roll from the 1960s and 70s, I could not help but think of guitarist Jimi Hendrix, the consummate virtuoso known to play with his instrument slung behind his back. This connection would serve as the poetic inspiration driving my composition, which features the virtuosity and lyricism of the pipa at all times. Sonic references to both Chinese culture (Peking opera gongs, prayer bowls) and American rock and roll à la Hendrix (electric guitar, “sharp 9” harmonies, “cry baby” filtering effects) mingle with one another. Additionally, Behind the Back alludes to the ceremonial atmosphere of the Mogao murals while imagining the sort of music provided by the acrobatic women depicted within, a music which incorporates passages suggestive of dance and aerial maneuvers.
Behind the Back was named a Finalist in the 2018 ASCAP/SEAMUS Student Commission Competition and awarded an Honorable Mention in the 2019 International Competition "Prix Destellos" (Mar del Plata, Argentina).