Three Pieces for Erhu & Piano (2015)

3 movements for Piano & Erhu // 12 mins
[Commissioned by New Sound China UK]

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Programme Note

Many Chinese composers are now writing for western classical orchestras and chamber ensembles. But how many western composers are writing for classical Chinese instruments and their related ensembles and orchestras? Only a few. So when New Sound China UK approached me to compose some new pieces for Erhu & Piano, I was very pleased to have the chance to try to help re-address this imbalance in my own small way; and hopefully be part of a new era of musical exchange between Chinese and western classical musics.

The fact that this commission was for Erhu with Piano was gave an immediate connection to western classical music, and therefore would make these pieces a more explicit meeting of China and Europe.

Also, that led me to explore references to older classical styles in these compositions; the Erhu is new to western classical music, so it felt natural to me that my first engagement would have some grounding in broader music history, not just more recent modern styles.

Five Steps could perhaps be seen as a ‘minuet’ but in 5 beats to the bar rather than the traditional triple-time. The erhu has a plaintive melody, that becomes increasingly ornamented as the piece progresses. The central section evolves into more angular, syncopated and territory, before returning to the main theme.

Off Piste contrasts strongly with the other two pieces, taking us into a busy, urban setting, and it presents the Erhu with a rhythmic and syncopated style that it rarely encounters. Wang Xiao, who premiered the piece, initially found it a real challenge, but once she understood the syncopated and high-spirited energy of the piece, she really enjoyed it, and enjoyed the unusual effects (such as simultaneous pizzicato and arco) that the Erhu is required to make.

Lament is an introspective piece that I composed reflecting on the upset and frustrations of a failing relationship. It connects most closely to traditional Erhu writing. It explores the Erhu’s voice-like quality and delicate, sensitive potential. The piano writing is quite simplistic, and partly influenced by Russian piano music.

© Gabriel Prokofiev, 2015

The first performance was given by Chi-Ling Lok (piano) and Wang Xiao (Erhu) at the New Sound China Concert, in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester on 25th September 2015.

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