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City of Sand (Speculative Dunhuang)

City of Sand (Speculative Dunhuang)

for clarinet, tabla, pipa, percussion, and string orchestra


  • Instrumentation: clarinet, tabla, pipa, percussion, and string orchestra
  • Edition: performance material

 
description
The two-millennium-old Central Asian interzone that appears to us in and around the town of Dunhuang sheds light on our current moment as much as it tells us about the past. A splendid assemblage of painted murals found in several hundred hand-carved cave temples nearby – the so-called Mogao (“Peerless”) Grottoes, built up over nine centuries – reveal to us a deliriously hybrid Buddhism informed by Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, early Islam, Taoism, Confucianism, and Manichaeism. In these caves we see evidence of an organic globalism emerging in Dunhuang from the movements and interactions of Chinese, Indian, Central Asian, North African, and Middle Eastern peoples along the Silk Road. Dunhuang itself was known in earlier eras as Shazhou, from the Arabo-Persian Saju, which means “City of Sand.”

Theater director Peter Sellars brought this improvised cultural aggregate to my attention, through his project on the Vimalakirti Sutra, a Mahayana scripture that is depicted in some of the murals in Cave 17. In this text, the titular protagonist, a layman, performs miracles for a gathering audience of bodhisattvas, monks, and disciples, and offers insights on a number of central Buddhist tenets, most famously the “voidness” of all worldly phenomena, which he expresses in a “lion’s roar” of silence.

The experiences we associate with the Silk Road -- migration, discovery, encounter, interaction -- all depend on improvisation: our capacity to sense, decide, and act in relation to each other. Composing this piece was a puzzle for me at first; it was not immediately obvious how to merge different musical sensibilities and sonic languages. Eventually, through speculating about Dunhuang’s deep past, I realized that just as in these caves, and just as in culture as a whole, individual and collective improvisation would help us make the most of our shared presence. I thank the wonderful performers of A Far Cry and Silk Road Ensemble for rising to this occasion.

- Vijay Iyer
Details
Auftragswerk : Commissioned in 2016 by A Far Cry and Silk Road
Content text: I Frontier
II The Road
III Cave 17
IV Gathering
V Entrustment
Performance duration: 27'0"
Publisher: Schott Garden Music, New York
Year of composition: 2017
instrumentation: cl-tabla.1perc(sus cym, ride cym, kick drum, egg shaker, s.d, cajon, b.d, gslp, timp)-pipa-str
Performances
Orchestra: A Far Cry; Silk Road Ensemble
2017-05-26 | Boston, MA (United States of America), Jordan Hall | World Premiere
The two-millennium-old Central Asian interzone that appears to us in and around the town of Dunhuang sheds light on our current moment as much as it tells us about the past. A splendid assemblage of painted murals found in several hundred hand-carved cave temples nearby – the so-called Mogao (“Peerless”) Grottoes, built up over nine centuries – reveal to us a deliriously hybrid Buddhism informed by Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, early Islam, Taoism, Confucianism, and Manichaeism. In these caves we see evidence of an organic globalism emerging in Dunhuang from the movements and interactions of Chinese, Indian, Central Asian, North African, and Middle Eastern peoples along the Silk Road. Dunhuang itself was known in earlier eras as Shazhou, from the Arabo-Persian Saju, which means “City of Sand.”

Theater director Peter Sellars brought this improvised cultural aggregate to my attention, through his project on the Vimalakirti Sutra, a Mahayana scripture that is depicted in some of the murals in Cave 17. In this text, the titular protagonist, a layman, performs miracles for a gathering audience of bodhisattvas, monks, and disciples, and offers insights on a number of central Buddhist tenets, most famously the “voidness” of all worldly phenomena, which he expresses in a “lion’s roar” of silence.

The experiences we associate with the Silk Road -- migration, discovery, encounter, interaction -- all depend on improvisation: our capacity to sense, decide, and act in relation to each other. Composing this piece was a puzzle for me at first; it was not immediately obvious how to merge different musical sensibilities and sonic languages. Eventually, through speculating about Dunhuang’s deep past, I realized that just as in these caves, and just as in culture as a whole, individual and collective improvisation would help us make the most of our shared presence. I thank the wonderful performers of A Far Cry and Silk Road Ensemble for rising to this occasion.

- Vijay Iyer
Auftragswerk : Commissioned in 2016 by A Far Cry and Silk Road
Content text: I Frontier
II The Road
III Cave 17
IV Gathering
V Entrustment
Performance duration: 27'0"
Publisher: Schott Garden Music, New York
Year of composition: 2017
instrumentation: cl-tabla.1perc(sus cym, ride cym, kick drum, egg shaker, s.d, cajon, b.d, gslp, timp)-pipa-str
Orchestra: A Far Cry; Silk Road Ensemble
2017-05-26 | Boston, MA (United States of America), Jordan Hall | World Premiere