From water to wind chimes: Sameul Cho and Lee Chie Tsang's Free Hand commissions

Young Malaysian composer Samuel Cho, who lives in Germany, is busy at work with his new commission for the upcoming UCSI Piano Festival 2020. The young pianist composer reports, "The commission work is coming along very nicely. The draft is finished and I'm in the notational process right now. I've already given it a title. It's called 'Tinatina'."

Cho won the UCSI commission at Free Hand Festival 2019 last August with his work Vatni, which explores concepts of water and fluidity on the piano. This time around, he has picked the ethereal sounds of windchimes for his inspiration.

He describes how he approached his new work, and has offered insights into a composer's approach and thought process into creating a new composition.

Samuel Cho's Vatni
"This piece came along quite easily, since I was already working on some small piano pieces earlier this year. I had a list of ideas I wanted to do for small piano pieces, but somehow I could not find the musical solution to composing them. The commission came at just the right time, since by then, I already had most of the problems worked out and could begin working musically. For this piece, the initial inspiration was to try and model a windchime. 

"Many composers have their own ways of notating windchime-like sounds. I found myself going through a lot of different notational processes to try and imitate the windchime. I first tried to use multiple layers of simple polyrhythms like 3:4:5:7, but these were too symmetrical. Even just using rhythmic layers like that was too predictable. 

"I also tried to use prolation canons, where there is one theme, so to speak, which is repeated at a different tempo and a different key. This too was still too predictable and doesn't even make much musical sense to me. In the end, while I did learn much from trying to imitate natural processes (the wind moving the windchimes), I had nothing musical. So I changed my goals. 

"With these tools now under my belt, I eventually found a very simple and very elegant way of writing down what I wanted to hear and play. This involves using what people already knew about standard notation, like reading the dynamics forte or piano, and repurposing them for a different way of playing. 

"The French school of composition has already done this to some extent, where the score becomes a 'manual' of playing the music, instead of the score reflecting what the music sounds like. My score is similar, but calls for a massive change in the way the pianist will have to think about playing. 

"The piece involves a lot of improvisation on the part of the performer, but in such a way that the notes to choose are already provided. It's a very organic and pianistic process that led to a more satisfying and interesting sound than using arbitrary and complicated rhythmic processes. 

"I believe the pianists will either have a lot of fun learning to play the piece, or will scratch their heads in pure confusion," says Cho.
Unknown worlds

Meanwhile the other composer who has received a commission at the Free Hand 2019 Festival, Lee Chie Tsang, has based his new work 'To light, and then return' on miniature poems by Emily Dickinson.

"'To light, and then return' is inspired by a collection of envelope-poems written by Emily Dickinson.

"What I am interested in these fragmentary work of her is that they offer thresholds for one to enter an unknown world(s) that yet to be explored, capturing and revealing a moment ‘before’. 
"Marks of the contact by one’s artistic sensitivity to their creativity that have been bounded in relation of simple elementary components, yet open, unbounded, and contingent," writes Lee on the programme notes.
The poem is as follows:

The spry Arms of the Wind
If I could crawl between
I have an errand imminent
To an adjoining Zone
I should not care to stop
My Process is not long
The Wind could wait without the Gate
Or stroll the Town among.
To ascertain the House
And is the soul at Home
And hold the Wick of mine to it
To light, and then return –
- Emily Dickinson

Samuel Cho's Vatni and Lee Chie Tsang's Sympathetic Resonance, which were performed at Free Hand 2019, can be found on MCC's latest publication Free Hand Anthology I, and can be heard on Free Hand's website. 

Meanwhile the new commissions were performed at the UCSI piano festival, and can be heard on Malaysian Composers TV:

Samuel Cho's Tinatina

Lee Chie Tsang's To light, and then return