Wooden Fish Ensemble rethinks classical music with East-West influences


Set of wooden fish Sunday’s performance offered a unique take on contemporary American and East Asian classical music and compositions that lie comfortably in between, expressing a message of unity and cultural dialogue.

The performance was hosted by the Music Department at Campbell Recital Hall and showcased the musical talents of the main music speaker. Thomas schultz on the piano, Terrie Baune and Ilana Blumberg on the violin and Hwayoung Shon play the gayageum (a Korean string instrument). Some of the music played was writing by Schultz’s wife and composer of the Wooden Fish Ensemble, Hyo-shin Na. Since its founding in 2003, the Ensemble has featured musicians from the Bay Area and various guests from Asia. Schultz added: “Recently the music we play is more and more Asian.”

For this performance, the Ensemble invited Shon, a renowned gayageum performer with honors longer than I can fit in this article, who arrived on stage in her hanbok, carrying the large wooden string instrument in a hand and its frame in the other. During her performance of “Kayageum Sanjo”, the hall became silent, fascinated by the simple beauty of the music. Rooted in Korean lore, Shon’s performance sped up over the course of the song, generating complex and magnificent transient harmonies that floated through the air.

The Wooden Fish Ensemble also excelled in presenting modern interpretations of traditional hymns, such as the series “Ballads of North America” ​​composed by Frederic Rzewski. In “Which side are you on?” (After Florence Reece) ”, Rzewski appropriated and built on the well-known hymns that tell the stories of North American identities; this specific composition is based on Florence Reece’s 1931 composition on a miner’s strike in Kentucky.

In a thesis interview with pianist Sujin Kim, Rzewski developed the idea of ​​deliberation behind his composition: “So, are you on this side? Or are you on that side? Do you support minors? Or do you support the bosses? In concert, Schultz captured this division perfectly; the composition was broken up into a fast, erratic chord progression that bordered on both mania and optimism, as if you were searching for meaning in an uncertain and morally ambiguous world.

(Photo courtesy of The Wooden Fish Set)

At its best, however, the Wooden Fish Ensemble stood out for the freshness and inventiveness of Na’s composition, complemented by a moving performance by the wonderful Blumberg and Baune. In “The balancing of the branch II (for two violins)” (2017) and “Weaving variations (after” Angelita Huenuman “by Victor Jara)” (2020), the innovative implementation of the pinching and sliding commands a feeling of movement. Na’s composition creatively captured the feel of a wind whistling through the leaves, as well as the musical negotiation between traditional Eastern and Western musical composition.

“At first, I was making arrangements; assign the music to each performer, ”said Na, explaining her various composition skills. “As we started to move forward, I stayed outside. I would just cook their snacks and they would teach each other and create their own interpretation of folk music.

According to its creators, the Wooden Fish Ensemble was intended to be transcultural from the start, as its name embodies.

“We named the Ensemble after the wooden fish hanging in Buddhist temples, with our eyes always open, to always be aware of new ideas,” said Schultz.

Although this is an impressive performance with a wide variety of music, Schultz’s hope “to perform in front of as large an audience as possible, to [undergraduates] to seniors ”missed its target. The music hall was occupied by fewer undergraduates than can be counted with one hand. While I appreciate that classical music isn’t for everyone – certainly not my lack of sleep when I walked around the auditorium last Sunday afternoon – I wonder if the format of recitals like this is appropriate to inspire students. Maybe if the show was shorter, if there was more promotion, if there was an integration of multimedia performances allowing the audience to engage in the history of the group beyond an interview. offstage, the unification of East-West music through spectacle could have more impact, especially during this politically divided period.

It would have been nice to see more young people in the audience. As Na explains, “although everyone has their own original language, we share the same musical language”.

The set of wooden fish posing for a group photo.
(Photo courtesy of The Wooden Fish Set)

Comments are closed.