London-based artist collective Tangram join us for their third Lunar New Year Premieres concert at LSO St Luke’s. Set up by yangqin player Reylon Yount and composer Alex Ho, who was part of the LSO Soundhub composer scheme in 2018/19, Tangram create new music exploring the relationship between China and the West. Sun Keting, whose work Erasure will be performed on the night, was on the Soundhub composer scheme at the same time as Alex.
In the lead up to the concert on Saturday 29 January 2022 at LSO St Luke’s, Tangram give us a glimpse of the celebratory spirit of the concert marking the Lunar New Year. We hear from commissioned composers Beibei Wang (BW), Vivian Fung (VF), and Tonia Ko (TK) about their favourite Chinese dishes, how they usually celebrate the new year, and a little about their music.
How do you usually celebrate the Lunar New Year?
BW Lunar New Year for me is all about being together and all about food! If I’m not back home in China with my family, I like to have a big hotpot with friends. Especially friends from different cultures and nationalities. Sharing culture and bringing more people into the celebration is important for me.
TK Every year I video call family members in Hong Kong and Hawai‘i and get confused with the huge span in time zones. That is the only usual thing; otherwise, I try to cook any Cantonese dish that reminds me of my mother’s cooking. However, with the Tangram concert this year I’m inspired to go all-out – maybe I will adopt a narcissus plant and clean my flat!
VF Cooking with my family and of course, eating! Also, this year we will go to the San Francisco Lunar New Year parade in Chinatown since my son’s school will be participating in the parade. Also, red pockets all around for the kids.
What is your favourite Chinese restaurant?
BW My favourite restaurant in London right now is Master Wei. It is a Xi’an restaurant which is also the city I was born in. Even though I grew up in a different part of China, I think the food I ate as a small baby made a big impression! My favourite dish is Liangpi, a kind of cold noodle with a spicy and vinegary sauce from Shaanxi Province that reminds me of relaxed summer evenings in Xi’an.
TK I’m afraid I have not yet sampled enough places in London to make a choice (I moved here just a few months before the pandemic started). I can offer a delicious recent food memory instead, from Jade Dynasty in Honolulu, where I spent my Christmas holiday: sticky rice wrapped with lotus leaf, steamed with a whole crab on top.
VF Well, I have many different favourites, but I will mention Great China in Berkeley, CA that does a mean Beijing Duck – it is my 6-year-old son’s favourite too!
What can we expect from your Tangram commission?
BW I wanted to have a little casual musical party on stage. Something that feels like just sitting around a table with friends having a few drinks and small bowls of xiajiucai (Chinese drinking snacks) - something really fun and playful. I’ve been thinking back on New Year dinners my parents would host when I was a kid with all my grandparents and aunties and uncles over. After enough drinks my dad and uncles would start playing hand games like huaquan where you take turns to call out numbers and hold out a number of fingers at a fast rhythmic pace. Sitting in the middle of it all was like a stereo polyrhythm effect which I wanted to capture in music.
TK My new piece, Farewell Dwelling, is based on the cyclical nature of care, specifically the way that my grandmother now lives a rather nomadic life while being cared for in turns by her children. A sonic quality that pervades the ensemble is that of muted resonance.
VF Fast, virtuosic writing that will keep everyone, including the performers, on their toes! My piece is entitled 'Sparks' and is a reflection of these tumultuous times, a realization that our lockdown ignited many movements of positive change through collective energies in our communities. There are moments of calm in this piece as well, a ruminating contrast to the high energy of the rest of the piece.
How was the process of writing for Tangram and Chinese instrument(s)?
BW I have been collecting ideas for the past month around food culture, eating, and drinking. I have been trying to find ways to bring this into music, so I’ve been stealing all sorts of bowls and chopsticks from the kitchen to use as instruments and recording myself trying to recreate the sounds of the hand games my family always play. Mostly it’s been really nice to reminisce about times growing up, but I’ve also been making myself crack up at some of the huaquan phrases!
TK I actually avoided writing for Chinese instruments until I learned about Tangram and the way they acknowledge the complexities around heritage; the ‘East meets West’ binary just never felt very me. In terms of process, I met with Reylon Yount, Tangram co-founder, to learn about the yangqin as I have never written for it before. From that meeting, I selected a few techniques that informed the rest of my writing for the ensemble.
VF Well, I was lucky since Reylon and I met in person in San Francisco, where Reylon’s family lives and where he is originally from. It was a wonderful afternoon of music, conversation, and dumplings! Since I had never written for yangqin before, Reylon did a wonderful demonstration about all there is to know about the yangqin and performed excerpts of traditional works as well as his own works. That made things a lot easier for me to dig into writing for the instrument. I agree with Tonia that the 'East Meets West' idea never resonated with me. I never really found satisfaction in the process of writing for non-Western instruments…until now.
What is the most important element of Chinese culture(s) for you?
BW There’s a phrase from Daoist philosophy Tianreheyi 天人合一 which means nature and humankind are one. It’s something I find myself thinking about often and am constantly finding inspiration in these words.
TK The close-knit, multi-generational family unit that persists even across many miles and years apart.
VF I find that family is increasingly important and gaining awareness about culture around my family gives me greater context to understand myself and those close to me.
Beibei Wang, Tonia Ko, and Vivian Fung will have their pieces premiered at LSO St Luke’s on Saturday 29 January 2020. Tickets are available here.
Listen to performances from Tangram's last Lunar New Year concert in 2020:
Tangram: Lunar New Year Premieres
Saturday 29 January 8pm
6.30pm Doors open
7pm Pre-concert talk
Huang Yijun arr Alex Ho Beautiful Flowers and The Full Moon
Sun Keting Erasure
Beibei Wang JiuGe (world premiere)
Emmy The Great Swimming Pool; A Window/O’Keeffe
Tonia Ko Farewell Dwelling (world premiere)
Mantawoman Night and Day
Vivian Fung Sparks (world premiere)
The Cranberries arr Faye Wong/Emmy The Great/Tangram Dreams
Daniel Shao flute
Reylon Yount yangqin
Beibei Wang percussion
Annie Yim piano *
Emmy The Great multi-instrumentalist *
Alex Ho conductor
Tickets: £23 (£16 concessions)