Ritual II (2018 rev. 2019)
for oboe solo, flute, clarinet, trumpet, harp, piano, 2 percussionists, cello, bass
-Performed by Eastman student ensemble, cond. Edo Frenkel, sol. Abigail Hawthorne, Eastman School of Music; Rochester, New York, Nov. 2018
I. zhi - solstice
II. fen - equinox
III. dui - antiphony
IV. li - rite
Aspects of ritual—specifically ancient Chinese ritual practice and the aesthetics of ritual material culture—permeate my compositional output. Etically, ritual is fundamentally irrational—incomprehensible to those uninitiated to its ineffable symbolism. In creating imaginary, idealized rituals drawing from bygone and extinct traditions (the participants of which have never existed beyond the fantasy-realm of the piece itself), I intend to create spaces of mystery animated by an ungraspable inner logic.
In my Ritual series of works, I experiment with novel approaches to ritual structure that stem directly from personal encounters with relics of ancient Chinese ritual practice. Ritual II germinated as a reaction to my encounter with Manzairaku and Ranryo Ou—two extraordinary works of togaku gagaku repertoire imported from Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) China (distinct from native Japanese gagaku in orchestration and structure). In listening to these musical fragments of an irretrievable era of Chinese culture—now exclusively extant far outside their original geographical and social context—I was particularly drawn to the sense of non-teleological time and fluid alternation between heterophony and counterpoint. I have taken these two seemingly irrational principles of organization as the structural foundation for Ritual II.
On another level, the piece is an exploration of the broader cosmological implications of ritual as a philosophical principle in Ancient Chinese thought. Namely, the Chinese idea of ritual, li, in accordance with a general cosmology of endless flux, is a means of aligning people with change. Each movement of Ritual II frames a metamorphosis. Solstice suggests the overcoming of one element by another; Equinox suggests equilibrium; Antiphony suggests mutual repulsion; Rite suggests a process of alignment.