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3 September 2021

Chu Wang-Hua at 80 - composer and visionary

Chu Wang-Hua at 80 - composer and visionary

Melbourne-based composer Chu Wang-Hua celebrates his 80th birthday on Sunday 5 September. An inventive composer of symphonies, concertos and string quartets, and part of the creative team behind the famous Yellow River Concerto, Chu Wang-Hua's works completed over the past decade include the 2013 Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra. Australian saxophonist Joseph Lallo has played this major work with two different orchestras and shares his impressions in this blog article.

Chu Wang-Hua's concerto is a major contribution to the classical saxophone repertoire. He creates a distinctive and profoundly inventive concerto that explores the idiomatic techniques and colours of the saxophone within the Chinese musical style. The folk-song inspired melodies utilise both the brass and woodwind sonic qualities of the instrument, and take advantage of the embouchure bend technique to mimic the types of glissando and ornamentation of traditional Chinese instruments.

Working with Chu Wang-Hua, I was struck by the composer's deep musical sensitivity and originality. During our first run-through together, with Wang-Hua himself accompanying me on the piano, he would describe particular phrases using only subtle hand gestures, or simple yet evocative adjectives that beautifully encapsulated his musical intent. Hearing him perform the Yellow River Concerto in Melbourne has also been a musical highlight of mine, providing tremendous insight into his music and creativity.

I have had the privilege of performing Chu Wang-Hua's Concerto for alto saxophone and orchestra twice. Firstly with the Pro Musica Orchestra here in Melbourne, and then with the Xiamen Philharmonic Orchestra in China. Both concerts were programmed and conducted by John Ferguson, who has been dedicated to researching and performing the music of Chu Wang-Hua for over fifteen years.

To accompany the two performance videos embedded in this article, the program notes below provide insights into the composition and the ideas within it. These were written by John Ferguson in collaboration with the composer:

In this work, the composer has used all the features of the saxophone to express a concerto in a Chinese style. The first movement introduces the work with a plaintive cry filled with pathos. The theme is based on a popular Chinese folk song, 'Lady Meng Jiang', known for its tender and demure core.

The second movement contains more lingering melodies and passions, evoking the good life and the pursuit of love.

The third movement in Rondo form, vivid, active and vibrant. This movement is composed using various styles of dance music, some strongly rhythmical, some gentle and refined, other heroic and stirring, all in celebration of a better life.

This saxophone concerto composition not only carries distinctive Chinese musical style, but also a strong representation of the spirit of the times.

John Ferguson's ongoing PhD research of Chu Wang-Hua's music will increase our understanding of this major composer. It will include recordings and an exegesis of selected works, including some that have not previously been performed, and have been transcribed by John from the original manuscripts. His study examines his use of Western instruments, and compositional techniques, and to what extent he has maintained a Chinese identity within his compositions.

In addition to being a visionary musician, Chu Wang-Hua is a brilliant painter, a deep thinker, and a gentle and positive human. It's a great pleasure to wish him a very happy 80th birthday!

> Chu Wang-Hua - AMC profile

Joseph Lallo is a Lecturer of Music at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, and performs internationally as a soloist and chamber musician. He is the Artistic Director for Melbourne Saxophone and the Melbourne International Saxophone Festival. Joseph has performed with the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria and the Australian Ballet, and as a soloist with China’s Xiamen Philharmonic Orchestra, and Melbourne's Pro Musica Orchestra . He a member of the chamber music ensemble Collide with cellist Yelian He and pianist Yasmin Rowe and Duo Obax with oboist Briana Leaman. A work by Luke Severn written for Duo Obax and Yasmin Rowe, And other lines, will be recorded by ABC Classic for publication on their recording label in 2021.


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