Pipa player Wu Man solos at Jan. 20 RDSO Postcards from Asia concert. (Contributed photo).

Pan-Asian composition by RDSO conductor Claude Lapalme debuts this month

Celebrated pipa player Wu Man is soloist at Jan. 20 concert

Red Deer Symphony Orchestra listeners will be taken on an exotic musical journey to Asia this month, as the musicians take on new percussive challenges.

Two types of trips will be in the offing at the Saturday, Jan. 20, concert at the Red Deer College Arts Centre. Music director Claude Lapalme describes them as an entertaining travelogue, as well as a deeper cultural experience.

On the lighter side is Lapalme’s original, 40-minute work, Postcards from Asia — Suite for Chamber Orchestra. It offers a “humble tourist’s view” of several musical cultures from the eastern hemisphere. Lapalme said he drew inspiration from his travels to Japan, Hong Kong and Bali and his abiding interest in Nepal.

The first movement is set on the Indonesian island, where gamelan (percussion) orchestras and Ramayana Monkey Chant vocalists perform trance-inducing rhythms.

Since the RDSO’s small percussion section can’t handle all of the composition’s demands, Lapalme said many other musicians will perform double duty — playing the rocks or cymbals as well as woodwinds and strings.

RDSO musicians will also give a loose approximation of the spooky Balinese monkey chant — which actually takes years to master, said Lapalme, so this version will provide “colour.”

To dispel the “exotic strangeness” of the opening, the Suite next veers north to China for a more familiar-sounding movement based on the ribbon dance. Since western instruments will imitate Chinese ones, the RDSO concertmaster will make sounds resembling the ehru, or two-string violin.

Lapalme’s musical travelogue goes to Japan for a third movement inspired by Gagaku imperial music, and finishes with an ascent to Tibet and Nepal, where the tones of a religious ceremony will be followed by a slow chant and a “victorious climax.”

While Lapalme’s original work “has a postcard feel,” more of a cultural, immersive experience will come from the RDSO’s performance of Ottawa composer Vincent Ho’s Rejuvenation — A Taoist’s Journey.

Ho’s work will feature the celebrated Wu Man of the Silk Road Ensemble, playing the pipa (a short-necked Chinese lute), and narrator Michael Hope.

Rejuvenation was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in honour of the Chinese New Year during Canada’s 150th birthday year. It expresses the essence of Taoism in musical form. Ho aimed to write a piece that leads to “self-purification” and spiritual enlightenment.

Also on the program are two movements from a piece written by Wu Man (featuring her as a soloist) called Four Paintings from Chinese Landscapes, for strings and pipa, and Bernard Roger’s short Dance with the Pennons from Three Japanese Dances.

Tickets are from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.


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