Island

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.