Keting Sun: Ensō

Discover Keting Sun, one of the four composers on the LSO Soundhub Scheme 2019, as she gives us an insight into her composition Ensō ahead of its partial performance at a Free Friday Lunchtime Concert on Friday 19 July and its full premiere on Saturday 20 July.

keting blogA few years ago, I had discovered how the philosophical notions from Buddhism, Hinduism and Zen are present in almost every living matter in the world. As a composer, I aspire to write music that provokes deep self-reflection on both our spiritual world and living status, as well as allowing the contemporary scene to be accessible.

I was so excited when I found out I was accepted for this year’s LSO Soundhub Scheme! The statement for my application mainly consisted of the ideas for my proposed research projects, and how I aim to heighten the sensory experience in the world of performance arts. LSO Soundhub was the perfect platform, offering me the opportunity to compose a project based on notions of Eastern philosophy, utilising choreography.

I was very lucky to be introduced to Chinese performance artist, Huang Xiao (PhD in University of Bologna). Her movement and artistic thoughts, as well as an excerpt of her previous work, Body Painting inspired me to collaborate with her for LSO Soundhub. From last November until now, we have worked on this piece via phone calls and spent hours in workshops together brainstorming all of our ideas and questions, what proportion of the piece would be choreography or music? How do we share our philosophy behind it? How can we feature performance painting in this piece? And so, I imagined her body as another instrument, the sound a part of the dance, and the dance a part of the music. I’d started to understand the musical language I wanted to apply to my composition.

Enso movement Huang Xiao 72

The title of this piece is named after the Ensō, a circular symbol in Zen Buddhism which represents absolute enlightenment, strength, the universe, and the void. Zen masters spend a great amount of time practicing to draw this symbol as a way into a meditative state. The Ensō is usually illustrated as a black brush stroke of ink on white paper. The shape starts from a point of stillness, transforming itself into a dynamic and almost violent motion, which finally gathers all of its energy into a curved, infinitely decreasing point towards the end. Xiao’s choreography when painting on a canvas with her body syncs perfectly with the shape of the symbol. Most of the decisions that Hung Xiao and I made on both music and choreography have been created around this philosophical pattern and idea.

enso zen circle brush black ink vector 15797056

It’s been such a rewarding experience to be able to work on this project with LSO staff and the amazing musicians of the LSO. I’m very appreciative towards everyone who showed great interest in working on this piece and for putting so much effort into it. I’d also like to thank all LSO staff for their time, patience and dedication – with special thanks to Natalia Franklin Pierce’s direction and guidance. Besides the workshops with Xiao, we’ve had a workshop with our incredibly talented musicians: Colin Alexander (cello), Marianne Schofield (double Bass) and Jacob Brown (percussion). Coming up next are our rehearsals and I’m very much looking forward to seeing all of the parts come together to make a whole. Lastly, with the process drawing to a close, I’d like to dedicate this piece to a close family friend who I deeply admired and loved as she recently passed away whilst I was finishing the last minute of Ensō. I wish to deliver something sincere, from the bottom of my heart.

Keting Sun
Keting Sun is a London-based Chinese composer. Her recent works focus on instrumental sound exploration combining cultural and philosophical elements. She has composed music for ensembles including the CHROMA Ensemble, Tritium Trio, The CoMA Ensemble, The Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra and The National Chinese Orchestra Taiwan. She has recently collaborated on projects with The Wellcome Collection, The Bristol School of Animation and Leeds Lieder Festival as well as established artists such as Paul Morley, Huw Watkins, Liam Byrne and Michael Foyle. Keting is beginning a doctorate at the Royal Academy of Music, where she completed her MMus degree in 2018 and received the Pullen Memorial Prize.

 Keting Sun's Ensō, devised through LSO Soundhub will be performed in part at a Free Friday Lunchtime Concert on Friday 19 July, and premiered in full on Saturday 20 July at the Soundhub Showcase: Phase I 2019.

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