During China’s Cultural Revolution, one of the world’s oldest civilizations tore itself apart, with an estimated 70 million deaths. One story from this terrible period comes from China’s remote Xiaoxiang region, where a widow avenged the death of her husband by tormenting his killer, a local Communist official. With no legal means of seeking justice, she sat in the forest behind the official’s house every night for months and wailed like a ghost. Both the wife and the official went insane.
This tragic story is the basis for Lei Liang’s Xiaoxiang, a concerto for saxophone and orchestra, which had its American premiere in March 2014 at the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.
The saxophonist? Our very own Chien-Kwan Lin, who commissioned Xiaoxiang and gave its premiere at the world Saxophone Congress XV in Bangkok with the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra. Recently Xiaoxiang was named as one of three finalists for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Music, along with pieces by Julia Wolfe and John Zorn.
Boston Classical Review described Xiaoxiang: “The work is a rhapsody of menacing and eerie sound effects. Bass strings were snapped against the fingerboard, muted trumpets growl, and the harpist hammers the strings with mallets.” Chien-Kwan Lin was described as “a bold presence answering the rest of the orchestra with bent tones, hard-tongued echo effects, and screaming high notes. To open the concerto, he arched long shrieking wails on the instruments mouthpiece, symbolic, Liang noted, of the widow’s inability to express herself. Hints of a melody pepper the final movement, where Lin and the woodwinds traded quick turning phrases to close imitation. “
As a resident of Boston, a student at the Eastman School, and a lover of history, I congratulate Professor Lin for commissioning this powerful piece about a tragic period in the history of a great people, and composer Lei Liang for making it to the finals for the Pulitzer Prize.
Andrew Psarris ‘15