One advantage of living in Seoul is its proximity to plenty of places I’ve never visited. So when I found out that 4 of my colleagues from the University of Hawaii would be traveling throughout China on a performance tour, I jumped at the chance to meet them while they were “in the neighborhood.” We headed to Shanghai, where Thomas Yee, Jonathan Korth, Rachel Schutz and Bichuan Li were staying for a short residency at Shanghai Normal University. It was my first trip to this city and, even coming from a massive city like Seoul, Shanghai’s population is overwhelming: 23 million people. All these people manage to weave around each other in cars, bicycles and scooters, balance their homes atop each other’s in enormous high-rises, and live together in a cacophonous harmony of car horns. We saw many of the different faces of Shanghai, from the modern skyscrapers to a small market on the outskirts of town that felt like it hadn’t changed in a century. Most importantly, perhaps, we ate a lot of great food.
But the main purpose of the visit was to present my work to students at the university and to introduce two of my works that Jon and Tommy were performing. Tommy played In Perpetuum, a short etude-like piece from 2009, and Jon took on the first movement of The Ends of the Earth, which is played mostly inside the piano using piano hammers. Both played the pieces solidly, and brought conviction and sensitivity to their performances. A composer can’t ask for better. The performances came with a tinge of sadness as well. The techniques used in the first movement of The Ends of the Earth are a result of UH’s longtime piano technician Yoshi Nishimura leaving a full set of piano hammers in my office and later suggesting I do “something interesting” with them. Yoshi, who had supported my programming of adventurous piano music and supported my love of sashimi on numerous occasions, passed away in Honolulu only a few days before the Shanghai performance. He was in all of our thoughts that night.
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