Percussion Concerto (1998)

Chen Yi (1953)

Percussion Concerto (Vibraphone, Xylophone, Marimba, Mark Tree, Bowl Chime [6”], Chinese Cymbals [7”], Peking Gongs (6) [6-12” on soft mallet], Medium Gong [16”], Large Gong [20”], Tam Tam, Japanese High Woodblock, Temple Blocks (5), Chinese TomToms (5), Dagu [Chinese Bass Drum 24”]


“Commissioned by Evelyn Glennie and the Singapore Symphony in 1998, the Percussion Concerto for percussion and full orchestra is premiered on March 8,1999 in Singapore and dedicated to Ms.Glennie, the SSO and it music director Lan Shui. Deeply inspired by the arts of Beijing Opera, the concerto consists of three movements: I. The Night Deepens; II.Prelude to Water Tune; III.Speedy Wind. 

The imagination of the first movement comes from the traditional Beijing Opera tune The Night Deepens from the opera Farewell to My Concubine, which was used in the scene of the Sword Dance, featuring the Chinese dagu (big drum). In the concerto, the dagu is beaten at the center and the rim of the membrane and rolled around the wooden edge, in typical Chinese performing style. 

The second movement is a realization of a poem Prelude to Water Tune by Su She (1036-1011), on the exaggerated reciting voice in Chinese operatic style, while the percussion instruments play the mysterious textures to support the human voice. Both parts are performed by the soloist, with the string instruments in the background, to create the atmosphere and the expression of the parting sorrow in the poem. The following is the English translation of the poe: “How long will the full moon appear?/ Wine cup in hand, I ask the Sky/ I do not know what time of year would be tonight in palace on high./ Riding the wind, there I would fly./ Yet I’m afraid the crystalline palace would be/ Too high and cold for me/. I rise and dance; with my shadow I play./ On high as on earth, would it be as gay?/ The moon goes around the mansions red/ Through gauze-draped windows soft to shed/ her light upon the sleepless bed./ Against man she should have no spite./ Why, then, when people part, is she oft full and bright?/ Men have sorrow and joy; they part or meet again;/ The moon is bright or dim and she may wax or wane./ There has been nothing perfect since the olden days./ So let us wish that man/ Will live long as he can!/ Through miles apart, we’ll share the beauty she displays.”

Speedy wind is a fixed rhythmic pattern in Beijing Opera percussion performance used in martial scenes. In the concerto the solo high woodblock leads the whole group of percussion instruments of Beijing Opera in the third movement. The solo cadenza that that brings in sets of tom-toms”

-Chen Yi


Annotated by James Koo