Showing posts with label Island. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Island. Show all posts

Island: Theme and Migrations

Chamber Music
for two pianos

“... exquisite aural imagination.” —Seattle Weekly

Island: Theme and Migrations is a work for two pianists at two pianos.

Video Documentary

Duration: 11 minutes
Premiered by Nancy Jang and Regina Yeh at Brechemin Auditorium, April 2007
Performed at Meany Hall, May 2007
Performed at Bristol Chapel, Westminster Choir College, April 2016
Commissioned by East-West Piano Arts

Program Notes
Island: Theme and Migrations refers to Angel Island, the Ellis Island of the West Coast, where Chinese sojourners carved their poetry into the walls of the immigration barracks. I think about their hardships and desires as I etch out sounds with gestures that come from the main theme.

These migrations, variations in the classical music sense, vary from performance to performance because I've cut open the notation. Melodies and chords float around the score.

Two pianists are separated by the bodies of two grand pianos as if they were separated by the ocean. The strings resonate between them as they touch the keys like sunlight bouncing on the waves. Across the distance, the pianists hear each other.
Byron Au Yong
Press Quote
“I've heard him conjure more beauty and expressiveness out of two stones clacked together than many composers can with a full orchestra.”
Gavin Borchert, Seattle Weekly


When Regina Yeh invited me to compose something for East-West Piano Arts, I thought of a new work for two pianists. I remember my piano teachers sitting next to me during lessons. Their presence would ground me as I tried to sonically transport myself as if I were playing alone. I have always been fascinated with this type of intimate listening.

My favorite piano teachers would ask me to sit aside while they demonstrated how a passage should feel. To this day, I am fascinated by watching hands create music. Whether slender, fat, wrinkled, or splotched, observing the movement of fingers taught me to notice the subtleties of kinetic energy. I compose with this bodily insight.

For Island, structured as a theme and variations, one pianist begins with the theme, while the other pianist listens. By the end, the original pianist lets the other pianist play the original theme solo.

I call this work Island not only because playing the piano often feels isolating to me, but because this work is a tribute to the Chinese sojourners who carved their hardships and desires in the form of classic poetry into the walls of Angel Island. The variations reference their longing and discoveries as American pioneers. Here is one of the poems.

Island is about what is passed from generation to generation. Tomorrow, I travel with my grandmother, father, uncles, and aunt to China. It will be my first time on the mainland and my father's first time in the place where his parents were born. Xiamen, a garden by the sea, is known as the place that has produced many pianists. Perhaps some of their playing will inspire me as I continue to compose this work.
Dedicated to intercultural collaboration, Byron Au Yong composes songs of dislocation, music for a changing world. He teaches in Performing Arts & Social Justice at the University of San Francisco.

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