Tomorrow night, Yen-lin Goh will give the New York premiere of Ge Gan-Ru’s Hard, Hard, Hard! a new monodrama for toy piano and toy instruments. Surely not to be missed! Find out more about the piece in her entry below.
For Ge Gan-Ru’s Hard, Hard, Hard! Tang Wan’s reply to Lu You’s poem (translated by Xu Yuanzhong)
The world unfair,
True manhood rare,
Dusk melts away in rain and
blooming trees turn bare.
Morning wind high,
Tear traces dry.
I’ll write to you what’s in my heart,
Leaning on rails, speaking apart,
Hard, hard, hard
Each goes his way,
Gone are our days,
Like ropes of a
swing my sick soul
The horn blows cold,
Night has grown old.
Afraid my grief may
I try to hide my tears undried.
Hide, hide, hide!
Inspired by Phoenix Haripin, a heartfelt Chinese poem by the famous poet of Song Dynasty, Lu You (1125-1210), Ge Gan-ru wrote a melodrama Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!for Margaret Leng Tan in 2006. This melodrama utilizes not only toy piano, but also other toy instruments that she had collected. Lu You is known as one of the greatest patriotic poets in ancient China. However, this particular poem does not dwell on his political aspirations but has as its subject his own tragic love story. Lu You grew up with his cousin Tang Wang, with whom he was first married. Even though they lived very happily together, Lu You was forced by his tyrannical mother to divorce his wife. They remained deeply in love with each other. Eight years later, in the spring of 1155, Lu You by chance met Tang Wan in the Shen Garden. Both had been remarried. Tang Wan offered Lu You golden teng wine. Lu You’s heart was broken when he saw her in tears and he spontaneously wrote the poem Phoenix Hairpin on the garden wall. This poem, in the Song Dynasty ci form following the ci convention, is in two stanzas. The first stanza ends with the word cuo repeated three times, which is the Chinese word for “wrong”. After Tang Wan read Lu You’s poem, she immediately wrote one back in response, using the same form. She was so sad that she became very sick and died soon after she wrote the poem.
My performance of Wrong, Wrong, Wrong! in 2010 led to the commission of a sequel from Ge Gan-ru based on Tang Wan’s reply to Lu You’s poem. Pianist Genevieve Lee has later agreed to join me as a co-commissioner. This companion piece, Hard, Hard, Hard! uses a similar instrumentation: toy piano, toy harp, toy glockenspiel and paper accordion, as well as other toys I have collected. Like Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!, Hard, Hard, Hard! gives “voice” to Tang Wan’s poem, further revealing this unforgettable 800-year-old Chinese romance.
Ge Gan-ru, described in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians as “China’s first avant-garde composer,” is regarded as one of the most original composers of his generation. His music is known for its immediately identifiable individualism and unique sound. Ge has composed music for concerts as well as theater, dance and documentary and feature films. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ge was already known in China as the first composer to employ contemporary and avant-garde techniques, which were prohibited at the time. He was criticized for his individualism, which was directly at odds with the prevailing ideology. His cello piece “Yi Feng,” written in 1982, marked the first avant-garde composition in China’s music history. Ge Gan-ru’s music reflects his deep interest in amalgamating Eastern and Western musical aesthetics. He writes, “I try to combine contemporary Western compositional techniques with my Chinese experience and Chinese musical characteristics to create a unique and highly individual sound world.”