FROM THE OTHER SKY
am original concert opera in three scenes and a postlude
Music and Libretto by Wang Jie.
Instrumentation: Singers, Fl, Cl, Bsn, Hn, Tpt, Trbn, Tba, 3 Perc, Keyboard soloist: Hpsd/Cel/Pno, Strings.
Duration: 17 minutes
Experiencing compassion for the first time, a Zodiac Goddess loses her place in the heavens to share her musical powers with mankind.
The Lark (Coloratura/Soprano), The Rat & The Crippled Woman (Mezzo-Sop.), The Rooster (Actor or Lyric-baritone), The Monkey (Keyboards Soloist)
Program Notes by Wang Jie
This is my Carnegie Hall debut. I’ve been performing since I was five and I’ve never been so dressed up in my life! So thank you for putting on your good shoes and sharing this special moment with me.
I still remember my piano teacher’s earliest advice to my father: “Mr. Wang, if you can get her to concentrate on one thing at a time, she might actually learn this big instrument.”
Turns out, I’ve got a wandering mind, a.k.a the Day Dreaming Disease. At any moment, my thoughts may wander from philosophy to a mouth-watering dinner recipe, and may then come under attack from insistent muses who command me to publish their music. Much like throwing some bones to a dog, these muses place bits of music and ideas in my head and expect me to have at it! So if you find yourself elated by tonight’s performance, the credit goes to them. If you hate it, well, it’s only 15 minutes long.
As for how good a pianist I turned out to be, I guess you’ll have to fasten your seatbelt and find out for yourself.
At the risk of spoiling the show, I should mention that I concocted this Lark kid out of thin air. Imagine my surprise when she turned out to be me, living simultaneously in the past, present and future.
FROM THE OTHER SKY is a multi-media concert opera based on the composer’s short story of the same title. American Composers Orchestra had commissioned me a new work for 2010 season, and they asked that the new work reflect “Mystics and Magic”. I felt necessary to intensify this theme with an original narrative of the mystical and magical power of music.
Set in 3 Scenes and a Postlude, FROM THE OTHER SKY is a fable on how the thirteen animals of the Chinese Zodiac (in the order of Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig and Lark) came to become twelve (the Lark doesn’t exist in the Chinese Zodiac as we know it). The Lark is an accidental heroine (the Holy Fool in the tradition of Wagner’s Parsifal) who saves the world unwittingly: as a result, not of what she does, but what is done to her.
During the ACO performance, members of the orchestra were part of the cast. An Actor performed and interacted with the singers, soloist and orches-tra members. A supertitle animation was projected as the backdrop of the scenes. The composer was casted as the Monkey, playing three keyboards: the Harpsichord, the Piano and the Celesta.
This is recorded live at the premiere on Oct. 15th 2010 at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall
American Composers Orchestra led by George Manahan
Emily Hindrichs, Coloratura | Krysty Swann, Mezzo-soprano | Hugh Sinclair, Actor | Wang Jie, Keyboard Solo
- The New York Times (October 18, 2010)
“The evening’s most vibrant, polished playing came in “From the Other Sky,” a 15-minute chamber opera by Wang Jie, a young Chinese composer based in New York and a winner of the orchestra’s Underwood Commission. The work, an invented fable about how the Lark was ejected from the Chinese zodiac, set to clear, lucid and evocative music, was sung in English and staged with whimsical headdresses, choreography and PowerPoint animations.
Portraying the Lark, the soprano Emily Hindrichs dispatched exuberant, high-flown lines with a winning ease. Krysty Swann, a mezzo-soprano, was an imperious Rat and a doleful peddler. Hugh Sinclair, the director, gave the Rooster’s proclamations an officious tone. Ms. Wang, cavorting in costume, played keyboards with the ensemble and prefaced the cheerful epilogue with a giddy cadenza on digitally sampled harpsichord. .”
– Steve Smith
- The New Criterion (Dec. 2010)
“An evening of the American Composers Orchestra did what such evenings do: present music for orchestra by American composers. The concert took place in Zankel Hall, which is in Carnegie’s basement, so to speak, and it offered three relatively recent pieces and two brand-new ones. One of the brand-new ones is not quite for orchestra. It’s called From the Other Sky, by a Chinese-American composer named Wang Jie, born in 1980. How to describe her piece? Here is how she describes it: “a multimedia concert opera / song cycle,” in “three scenes/movements.” There is a story, and it concerns the animals of the Chinese zodiac, and a missing, musical thirteenth one. The main message of the story, I believe, is that music is a balm to man.
The work is by turns whimsical, campy, tragic, haunting. At times it seems a novelty, almost a “private” piece, meant for friends at a party, not for the public. Shostakovich used to write this kind of piece. In fact, I was thinking that he would appreciate From the Other Sky, as I sat in Zankel Hall. But then, a seriousness of purpose is conveyed. The work has an element of agitprop. For example, characters hold up signs, one of which reads “Bailout Plan.” From the Other Sky strikes me as an exceptionally personal piece, something with a deep meaning to the composer—a meaning beyond what the audience can grasp, at least on a first hearing and viewing. The music is not memorable, I would say, but it fits each thought and scene. Incidentally, the composer herself participated in this premiere performance: She played three different keyboards and underwent several costume changes.
In the middle of the concert, an official with the American Composers Orchestra took the stage, to give a little speech. He thanked and flattered the audience. “All credit to you for coming,” he said, and, “Blessings on you for seeking out the unfamiliar.” Attendance was a virtue, you see: not merely a choice, but a virtue. The official congratulated the audience as an adult might congratulate a child on liking vegetables. Also, we learned that the orchestra has a program called “Playing It UNsafe,” which involves “five cutting-edge composers.” The conceits of the new-music crowd seem to know no bounds. May I suggest a way of playing it unsafe? Stop kissing the backsides of the new-music audience, and the “cutting-edge” composers, and let music rise or fall on its own merits. One well-composed waltz or galop is worth more than yet another uninspired exercise in the “cutting edge.”
For her piece, Wang Jie wrote one of the most charming program notes I have ever read. She spoke of “insistent muses who command me to write down their music.” She continued, “. . . if you find yourself elated by tonight’s performance, the credit goes to them. If you hate it, well, it’s only 15 minutes long.” Before her piece was performed, a video was shown, in which she was interviewed. And, during this interview, one of the most remarkable and moving things I have ever experienced in a concert hall—or in any public forum—took place.
Wang said that her father was a musician who survived the Cultural Revolution. At least, I believe I heard her correctly. At eleven, she herself was sent to a music school, far from their home in China—again, if I heard correctly. She was the youngest girl in the dormitory, and she was alone and miserable. “Nobody liked me,” she said. She had as her companions two cassettes, which she listened to over and over. They contained three pieces of music: Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. When she named these pieces, the audience—the much-flattered new-music audience—laughed. Or at least chortled. It was a chortling that said, “What sugary, silly, hackneyed pieces, poor girl.” Then, on the video, Wang said, “It kept me alive.” Listening to this music was what “kept me alive.” The hall shut up, right quick.
And I will add a footnote: Several years ago, I did a public interview of Valery Gergiev, and I asked him what first hooked him on music. He said it was a recording of Scheherazade. Why wouldn’t it?”