Phoenix Rising: a New Concerto, a New Year

For a lot of people I know, the New Year simply can’t come fast enough. And admittedly, this year there was a lot of bleak news in political, environmental, and human rights circles — news that gets heaped upon whatever personal challenges we may have had to deal with in 2018. For me, this year saw upheavals in a few different areas of my personal life, the ghosts of these events having a pesky habit of rearing their ugly heads in unexpected (and often poorly timed) ways. But the year also had its share of wondrous moments as well, moments that make you realize what a privilege it is to be able to travel and to play music for a living. One of those moments happened rather recently: this past November I performed as concerto soloist with the Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra in Taiwan. The LGCCO, led by Chi-Sheng Chen, is one of Taiwan’s premiere traditional Chinese-instrument orchestras: instead of Western violins, violas, harps, and woodwinds, the ranks of the LGCCO consist of erhus, gaohus, guzheng, yangqin, sheng, and dizi — a truly gorgeous and, to the uninitiated, entirely unique sound world.

Soundcheck for Samandari’s concerto, Phoenix Rising, with Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra, with Chih-Sheng Chen, conductor, at the National Hall, Taipei, Taiwan.

As you might imagine, there aren’t a lot (read: any) concertos for Western flute and Chinese-instrument orchestra, so the Canadian-Iranian composer Farshid Samandari created a new, 20-minute work, Phoenix Rising, thanks to generous assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts. It’s an exciting, virtuosic work that begins with an extensive orchestral tutti (symbolizing the “absence” or “death” of the phoenix); followed by the gradual emergence of the flutist/phoenix, who “activates” the various orchestral instruments (which can be heard in excerpt one, below); before finally transforming into a triumphant climax (excerpt two, below). Phoenix Rising isn’t just a fantastic piece that I’m proud of having a hand in creating; it’s also an apt metaphor for any of us who, after a turbulent year, are looking forward to 2019 for a chance at rebirth or renewal.

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