Full Orchestra: 3333, 4331, timp, 3perc, pno&cel, hp, str.
Duration: 12 min
Program Note to Fifth Edition:
I rarely start a piece not knowing how it ends. My Symphony No.1 was no exception. One of the biggest challenges for me has always been how a work begins. That applies to this symphony, as well as my life as a symphonic composer. So No.1 was special. It had to justify being my first. As if the pressure of measuring up to the great symphonists of the past wasn’t enough (it took Brahms 11 years to compose his first!), I added one more challenge: can I take two notes, a tiny two-note-motif, and spin out a 15-minute symphony? It’s been ten years since I did this reckless deed. Although I’m painfully aware of its flaws, today I stand proud of this work.
Compared to the great romantic symphonies, this symphony is petite. The three movements are played without pause. I would have loved to tell you that the short duration was inevitable because the symphony is sustained by one microscopic motif. The truth is more mundane: that was the program slot given to me: 15 minutes or less. I should’ve ignored it and written the extra 10 minutes I wanted. But those were the days I needed to show the world I was capable of following instructions and being a team player. I’ve since tried to recapture the music I wasn’t initially able to give this symphony. It didn’t work out. Interesting how the birth of this symphony formed its identity: stubborn, hopeful. Mainly stubborn, like its composer. So it’ll remain one of my favorite regrets.
How I became a composer is terribly unromantic. I once had a crush on a concert pianist. For a few years, a concert pianist was all I wanted to become. I practiced 6 hours a day. I was not bad but I wasn’t good enough to have a career. Meanwhile, one of my first attempts at composition won me a top prize at the Shanghai Conservatory. It was an assignment and I didn’t even try very hard. At some point, I took a cold look at the facts: I’ve got a real shot at composing. I’ve got to see it through. Over the years, what became more interesting to me is how I remained a composer. But that’s a topic for another day.
On an anecdotal note, I composed my Symphony No.1 during the darkest time of my life: a long and wretched divorce had just begun. Some years later, it made an appearance at the Minnesota Orchestra, where I met my future husband, Fred Child, during a live radio broadcast. Hard to know what else this symphony has planned for me. It’s been a privilege to watch the lives it has touched and changed since I created it 10 years ago.
23 Jun 2014