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Dream: Pavilion by the Water (2020-2)

A composition integrating strictly notated and improvisatory elements that require performers to collaborate in producing specific sonic and visual outcomes

This composition has been selected to be presented during the Music Since 1900 International Conference, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (June, 2022).

Dream: Pavilion by the Water (2020-2, hereafter Pavilion) for piano and mezzo-soprano witnesses the ongoing trend of revitalising composer-performer practice since 2020. The piece was inspired by the poem with the same title, written by the Song Chinese poet Qingzhao Li (1084—1155). The autobiographical and nostalgic tone made the poem an ideal subject for my research on identity — how a composition reflects a multi-layered, ever-changing identity construct. The concept of ‘poetic space’ was used when conceiving such a construct; Pavilion aims to present simultaneously the composer, performer, and the poet’s multiple identities in a ‘poetic’ way that leaves freedom of interpretation to the audience.

My role as the composer changed as the creation and realisation of Pavilion went through the recent pandemic. The piece features collaborative stage actions as its primary structuring device. I initially thought purely from a composer’s perspective, so I planned the activities with rather specific instructions. However, the arrival of the pandemic ‘forced’ me to step in as the pianist in recording the piece’s first performance. My subsequent collaboration with the mezzo-soprano (Yajie Ye) resulted in more improvised elements and interactions being included in the finalised work.

At least three important questions arose from this process: 1. How to notate the collaborative actions effectively and systematically? 2. How to balance my two roles when working with the other performer who actively contributed to the creative process? 3. What does it mean to be a composer-performer in 2022 and beyond? These questions and the creative process have become the topic of discussion during my presentations at academic conferences.

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