In the winter of 1981, while a student at Beijing’s Central Conservatory, I returned to my home province in Hunan to collect folk songs. When I arrived at a Tujia village, I met a famous “stone man” who welcomed me by playing his stone music, a very ancient stone drumming. In eight positions, according to the I Ching
and with shamanistic vocalizations, he talked to the wind, clouds, and leaves; he talked to the next life and the past one. At that moment I felt he was a map. Then I asked him, “Someday soon, might I come back to record your performance and study music with you?” For years, I didn’t find the chance to return, not until 20 years later when I started this piece for Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In the winter of 1999, I went back; the Tujia villagers welcomed me with a warm tea ceremony and told me “‘one has left, tea is cold’ the “stone man” has gone with the old music that nobody knew anymore.” I left the village with emptiness.
I really wanted to find a way to search for him, to follow him, to bring him back. Might we find a way to follow all that is vanishing? To keep things from disappearing?
is a multi-media concerto grosso
. I wanted to discover the counterpoint between different media, different time-spaces and different cultures. The structures and musical textures are designed to create antiphonal music by building a counterpoint between the cello solo and video orchestra video, solo and ensemble, text and sound, and multi-channel video and live playing of stone. Metaphorically, the orchestra becomes nature, the soloist symbolizes people, and video represents tradition.
can be considered in four sections: Movements one, two, and three constitute the first section and are played in succession. Sonic counterpoint is designed differently in each of these three movements. The following two movements are studies in contrast. Movement five creates a dialogue not only through space (a Feige is always sung antiphonally across mountains and valleys by a woman and a man) but also across time (the same woman in the video will for all time sing antiphonally with the cellist on stage therefore transcending history). Movement six is an interlude in which video images are replaced by text and sound in counterpoint, leading into movement seven, a video quartet with live stone solo.
The last section is made up of Movements eight and nine, where the cello solo, orchestra and video, become “one” and recreate music in its original, monophonic state simple, like heartbeats. It is a finale that does not end. Actually my greatest wish in composing The Map
was to meld technology and tradition. Through tradition, technology can be humanized; through technology tradition can be renewed and passed on. Ancient cultural traditions vanish everyday, everywhere. If artists embrace the past and the future within their hearts, miracles will happen. As my soloist Anssi Karttunen once told me: “My old French cello follows The Map
to Xiangxi. It has received great karma from the water there and has made true connections with the roots of the people there. The ancient music of Xiangxi has given my cello new sounds and a fresh life.” Yes! If one composes for a European orchestra but incorporates the unique perspectives of different cultures, as well as one’s own personal roots, it becomes a new orchestra like Schoenberg’s and Bartók’s did. People always say that human life is finite, but we forget that renewing the cultures and reinventing the traditions can extend human life infinitely.
Learn about other music from the Silk Road.