Friday, February 06, 2015

CCC 123 - Zhu Jian'er

If the Consonant Classical Challenge has shown anything, it's not just that there are living composers writing quality music -- but they're in all corners of the globe.

Chinese composer Zhu Jina'er grew up in Shanghai and stueed at the Moscow Conservatory in the mid-1950's. Well-steeped in Western classical music, he seeks to incorporate Chinese instruments and musical traditions into his work.

In addition to his compositions for Chinese ensembles, Zhu has written five symphonies and other works for Western orchestras and chamber ensembles.

Zhu uses triadic harmonies and pentatonic melodies, which make his music immediately accessible to the listener. Unlike Western composers, Zhu doesn't seem to feel the need to use harmonic motion to drive the music. This gives his work a sense of concise stability.

In his Symphony No. 3 "Tibet" Op. 29. Zhu uses the language and structure of Western music as the framework for his compositions. Although the chords and scales are Western, the five-note motifs and how they're treated come from the Chinese tradition.

In Memory of the Martyrs for Truth, symphonic fantasia, Op. 21 is a work that shows Zhu's expressive depth. The heartfelt emotions for the subject matter come through in Zhu's orchestration, and his use of minor chords and chromatic intervals.

Days of Emancipation shows Zhu's skill in writing for Chinese instruments. Although the music is idiomatic to the instruments, there's still a sense of classical organization about it that makes it immediately understandable not only to Chinese audiences, but to Western ears as well.

While many concert-goers might find Zhu Jian'er's Chinese ensemble music a little too exotic, that shouldn't be a problem with his orchestral works. Zhu's heritage comes through in his music -- just as Dvorak's does, or Elgar's, or Ginastera's. Personally, I find Zhu's viewpoint to be both refreshing and fascinating. While his works are immediately enjoyable, they also reveal additional details on repeated listening. If only his full cycle of symphonies were available...

Recommended recordings

Symphony, No. 1 and Festival Overture

Symphonic Fantasia / Symphony 4

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