Composer Li Yun lives in Beijing, where she is a graduate student at the China Conservatory of Music. Her music incorporates elements of Chinese folk music in combination with modern influences. Her piece Four Scenes from Li Qingzhao was premiered on the final CSB concert, Cincinnati – Beijing.
CSB: Could you tell us about your musical activities, and about the work featured on this concert?
LY: At the moment, most of my activities are centered in China. I take special inspiration from my research on folk music; this involves visiting various localities (most recently in Gansu and Hunan provinces), where I listen to, make field recordings of, and transcribe folk songs.
However, I am interested not solely in Chinese folk song, but also in looking to ancient forms of Chinese music and the ideas it presents as a point of departure. For instance, in this piece, the second movement explores ideas from guqin through the double bass. Sometimes it is in the form of imitation (as with the harmonics), but mostly this is in terms of atmosphere. The poet Li Qingzhao – who was refined and highly educated – almost definitely would have played guqin. I see this movement as a conversation across our different art forms and time periods.
CSB: Could you describe your compositional process?
LY: The most important part is for me to have a good feeling for the abstract and literal connotations I want to include in the work. For example, in the third movement of this work, the music is quite simple, but there are several layers of meaning interacting with one another.
CSB: What is your impression of the music scene in Beijing?
LY: There are many perspectives and concerts here; after all, two of the main conservatories in China are in Beijing.
But there is more than just music: both Beijing’s cultural scene (in a historical sense) and the concentration of modern culture found here are extremely rich. You see hutongs and modern buildings side-by-side, and this stark contrast between antiquity and modernity feels to me like the theme of our times.
Moreover, this imagery cannot disappear when I sit down at the piano. I want to explore the contrasts of China in my musical language to find the balance point.
CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar?
LY: I am currently writing a new orchestral piece and a chamber opera. Recently I have become more and more interested in voice and in exploring dramatic possibilities in my music.