Earthly Branches won a prize in the 2013 Beijing Modern Music Festival’s “Orchestral Composition Grand Prix” (I came third), and the piece was premiered in Beijing Concert Hall by Qingdao Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Zhang Guoyong.
I added the following text to the inside page of the score for Earthly Branches. This reflects how I felt (and feel) about the direction that the human race is heading in, in the face of climate change and ecological disruption. The piece was in some way a reflection of these worries.
We, who encounter another flood,
Like those in which others went under,
When we speak of their failings
The dark time too
Which we must escape.
I also added this programme note:
The Earthly Branches were designations of time in ancient Chinese chronology; the phrase immediately attracted me for its metaphorical connotations relating to the deep interconnectedness of the ecological cycles of the planet and the wild, chaotic co-existence of the many different realms of life. Such rich interconnectedness finds musical expression in three fundamental textures or materials which are overlaid and interleaved in different ways through the work: a polytonal and canonic tapestry belonging to the strings, an aerial music of high woodwind notes in quartertones, and a volcanic, atonal music in the brass. In a series of tuttis (the opening, letters H, R and U) the three materials exist in a “democracy of the elements”—that is to say, not a harmonious existence, but a turbulent co-existence. At other times one material comes to dominate the others (the aerial music at letter E, the volcanic music at letter N, the canonic music at letter T).
In this work I hope to have reconciled my purely musical interests with real-life concerns, to find a musical style- sets of materials and procedures- that can parallel extra-musical concerns. The issue at hand is the possible continuation of civilisation- something that cannot be taken for granted. The music has an essentially positive spirit- that of teeming nature, of atomic energies bursting forth- yet it struck me as I composed (while composing I had listened to the third of Berg’s Orchestral Pieces Op.6) that this positivity and optimism must be tempered with the haunting possibility of the total collapse of it all. The glittering third tutti embodies this optimistic outlook, but the fourth tutti and the following cataclysmic climax bring disintegration and an abrupt descent into bleak emptiness. Earthly Branches is dedicated affectionately to Cornelia Bogen.
(Thanks to Feng Chuguang for his help with the Chinese translation, which at that time was far too difficult for me.)