Exploring Chinese Orchestral Repertoire Series #56

Chung JEN: Island Festival

Erhu: Yuxiu LIU / Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra, Tien-Ku Percussion Group / Chih-Sheng CHEN / National Concert Hall, Taipei, Taiwan 2019.01.24. / Video: Jacob Audio and Video Arts, Jacob Chang / Audio: Chao-Hui Wang.

Religious belief is essential to the people of Taiwan. Whether it is due to Taiwan’s geographic location, historical evolution, or even if the gods came from the mainland, under the strong fusion of local characters and colours, Taiwan is a place of worship.

Thematically, the composer depicts the imagery of a temple ritual welcoming the “Great God”, with a fusion of different musical elements. The work is divided into seven sections and features the suona—an instrument commonly heard in temple ceremonies to invoke a strange yet distinctive atmosphere.

The first section opens with “Tour of the Great God”. Then, the second section “Fellowship” draws upon the characteristics of Hakka folk songs—they are warm and rich with a melody reflecting the emotions of devout hearts. With a fast and dance-like rhythm, the scene transforms into a dreamlike illusion as it enters the third section of “Sacrificial Dance”; believers communicate with the “Great God” through Taoist priests and xitong (dance-like rituals) and pray for blessings. As the tempo slows down, plucked string instruments bring out the fourth section as if the “Great God” came and surrendered to the oracle. In the fifth section “Sweeping Smoke”, the slow and long sound of continuous plucking brings the faithful worshipers back to reality. After the ceremony is complete, the sixth section of “Slow Dance” shows that the three realms of man, god, and spirit are connected. Worshipers are peaceful and happy in their hearts, as the music pushes into the final seventh section “Return”.

Translation: Shiyan Zhang / Edit: Patty Chan