Friday, June 27, 2014

CCC 107 - Chan Ka Nin

This installment of the Consonant Classical Challenge features Canadian composer Chan Ka Nin. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Chan emigrated to Canada, and teaches at the University of Toronto. His musical language, as one might expect, blends both Eastern and Western traditions into a unique compositional voice. As his website describes it,
Characteristically luminous in texture and exotic in instrumental colors, Prof. Chan's music has been described by critics as "sensuous," "haunting," and "intricate." The composer often draws his inspiration directly from his personal experiences: for example, the birth of one of his daughters, the death of his father, his spiritual quests, or his connection to nature and concern for the environment.
Chan's music is most definitely tonal, without being confined to the major/minor tradition. There are strong tonal centers which his music moves away from and returns to.

The Fantasia & Fugue for solo piano has some of that afore-mentioned flavor of exoticisim. Chan's use of pentatonic melodies give the Fantasia an Eastern flavor. The fugue follows Western tradition more closely, but because the underlying structure isn't rooted in a major or minor system, the harmonic motion is much freer and the work has a natural flow to it.

Chan's chamber work Among Friends is in essence a conversation between the clarinet, piano, and cello. Chan's melodies are mostly diatonic, which ensures they'll fit together with very little dissonance. At the same time, it gives him the freedom to create long, involved passages that wind in and out of each other, creating a continually shifting mix of timbres that keep things moving along.

The influences of East and West work both ways. Chan's Double Happiness Trio is written for two erhus and piano. Although the erhu (also known as the Chinese violin) is an Eastern instrument, Chan's music is more Western in orientation, somewhat resembling Debussy or Ravel. Yet he still takes full advantage of the unique attributes of the erhus in his writing.

Chan Ka Nin writes engaging and accessible music that I believe most audiences could enjoy on first hearing. I'd like to explore more of his catalog, especially his orchestral writing. It seems to me that performing groups looking to move beyond standard repertoire to engage new audiences (without losing their current ones) should consider programming a work or two by Chan Ka Nin.

Recommended Recordings

Chan, Ka Nin: Majestic Flair

Canadian Premieres

Orchestral Works

Wild Bird

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