This vocal work sets the poetry of Li Po (Li Bai) in Chinese. The world premiere performance from my “Music for Voices” composer portrait concert in Southampton in 2012, was sung by English performers, and I did my best to coach them in the mandarin pronunciation (although of course Li Po’s own pronunciation is nothing like the modern standard mandarin dialect). The version performed at the Tianjin May Music Festival in 2015 had, of course, Chinese performers, who naturally sang with perfect pronunciation, but the music itself was a challenge for them.
For the world premiere we used violin, while we had an erhu for the Tianjin version, which added a flavour to the music that fitted the visionary and philosophical world of the poetry. Tom Green expertly conducted the premiere, in which I played the piano. In the Tianjin version, I conducted, and got to experience this exceptionally difficult piece from another standpoint.
The world premiere:
The living man is a passing traveller; the dead, a man returning home.
Heaven, Earth, one brief journey; alike, sad age-old dust.
The Moon-rabbit vainly pounds the herbs; Fu Sang [the tree of immortality] has already become firewood.
White bones are dumb, speechless; green pines: how can they know the Spring?
Future, past alike: a sigh breath; how can we cherish this vaporous glory?
(Li Bai, translation by the composer)