Category Archives: Program Notes

Shimmering in the Air (氤氳微光): for haegeum, viola, and electronics (2018)


performed by Soo Yeon Lyuh and Ellen Ruth Rose

Program Note:

Shimmering in the Air is written for haegeum player Soo Yeon Lyuh and violist Ellen Ruth Rose. As the title indicates, this piece, by using plenty of air noise and harmonics from the instruments as well as the resonator and amplification from the electronics, aims at shaping a kind of atmosphere filled with light but bright timbres, metaphors of sparkling, shimmering fragments of lights scattering in the air, just like some fragments of memories flashing upon us yet quickly fading out and eventually forgotten in our life.


〈氤氳微光〉一曲是為奚琴演奏家 Soo Yeon Lyuh 與中提琴演奏家 violist Ellen Ruth Rose 所作(奚琴是韓國傳統二弦樂器, 演奏方式與中國二胡類似,但音色更加低沉粗獷)。 在此曲中,我大量使用器樂的氣聲與泛音,並加上共鳴共振器 (resonator)與擴音(amplification)的即時電聲效果,隱喻如碎片般散落在空氣中的微光,試圖塑造如曲名般、在朦朧中 透出輕微閃光的氛圍,同時也紀念許多生命中一閃而逝的時光片段。對我而言,這些微光彷彿一些散落在生命中的記憶碎片 ,突然閃現,卻又倏忽即逝,最終被我們所遺忘。



© Lily Chen 2019. All rights reserved.

Sundowning II: for contrabass flute and contraforte (2018)

performed by Keyed Kontraptions (Meerenai Shim & Kris King), San Francisco, CA, USA, Apr. 2018

Program Note:

Sundowning is a neurological phenomenon most commonly seen in sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease. Patients with sundowning usually begin to show behavioral problems after the sun sets. Sometimes they get agitated, restless, or even aggressive; sometimes they suffer from auditory hallucination, illusion, or even delusional disorder. Such syndrome visited my aged grandmother, which put her in a state of mood swings, mental confusion, and cognitive disorder. I found her physical functions obviously degenerating; she even lost her sense of hearing the week before her death.

This piece is divided into two uninterrupted sections: Agitation and Hallucination. I attempt to record the decaying and dreary living gestures of an aged person at the last stage of her life. Sundowning II is commissioned by Guerrilla Composers Guild and written for Meerenai Shim & Kris King of Keyed Kontraptions.

© Lily Chen 2019. All rights reserved.

Glittering Across the Ocean (彼岸星潭): for orchestra (2018)

commissioned by Taiwan Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra | NSO 國家交響樂團委託創作


Program Note:

Glittering Across the Ocean compiles my impressions and imaginations about the ocean as well as conveys the nostalgia and concern I feel for Taiwan while living across the Pacific in West Coast of the United States. To me, the ocean is one of the most intimate Taiwanese images. Born and bred in Hualien, and studying in the Bay Area in recent years, I have long lived in coastal cities and closely perceived many features of the ocean. In the poem “Manuscript in the Bottle,” Yang Mu compares his homesickness to surging waves: “when I set my foot in the ocean…/ will Hualien, oh Hualien in June / start a rumor of a tsunami?” Like the poet, I grew up in Hualien and studied in Berkeley; this poem deeply touches me.

This piece starts with diverse images of the ocean, its starlit splendor, its billowing tides, its shimmering waves on the ocean surface. In a different perspective, if I watch my distant hometown from the Bay Area, the tiny motions of waves on this shore might possibly cause a great tsunami or earthquake on the other shore. Through a shifting of perspectives from one shore to the other, I employ harmonics, trills, vibrations, resonances, subtle but complex textural and timbral changes, not only to represent shimmering waves and surging tsunamis, but also to shape dramatic fluctuations and transitions between the two scenarios.

In the process of composing this piece, a violent earthquake severely hit Hualien on 6 February 2018. I’d like to dedicate this piece to the ocean and the people in my hometown in token of my blessing for them, whether I am on this shore or on the other shore of the Pacific.

〈彼岸星潭〉彙集了我對海洋的印象與想像,是我在美國西岸隔著太平洋對彼岸故鄉的遙望與關注。海洋是我最親近的台灣意象之一。生長於花蓮,在關渡求學,而今旅居美國舊金山灣區, 我長年生活在臨海城市,感受到海洋的許多面貌。詩人楊牧在〈瓶中稿〉一詩中,將他對故鄉的思念比喻成一波波洶湧的浪:「當我涉足入海 / …不知道六月的花蓮啊花蓮 / 是否又謠傳海嘯?」同樣在花蓮出生,在柏克萊求學,我對此詩感觸甚深。



© Lily Chen 2018. All rights reserved.

A Leaf Falls After(葉落之後): for orchestra (2016-17)

Program Note:

A Leaf Falls After is inspired by my recent memories of living in Europe. In the fall of 2015, I received the Ladd Prize funded by UC Berkeley and had the great opportunity to live in Paris for ten months. This was my first time in Paris as well as in Europe; I experienced intimate incidents of fragile beauty that touched me, but also shocking and terrifying ones during my residence there. I was impressed by the most clear and colorful fall I’d ever seen when autumn leaves fell to the ground, sizzling as if drizzling; I was terrified by the terrorist attack but also touched by the toughness of the Parisians that winter; on a visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, I was fascinated to hear twelve bells constantly ringing, intertwining together as a huge chaotic but illusory whirl; I was stunned when visiting the installation ‘Fallen Leaves’ at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, watching thousands of open mouthed steel metal faces on the ground create, when walked on, harshly grating sounds like the victims’ screams.

Inspired by mixed emotions and diverse sounds, this piece traces the journey of a leaf: a solitary leaf falling with loneliness as described in an e. e. cumming’s poem; a light leaf falling with other leaves in autumn; a heavy metal leaf fallen on the ground. However, no matter what vibrations it has undergone during its falling and fallen time, the leaf will eventually be reincarnated into a rising butterfly, flapping its wings to cause a tornado in spring until the next falling comes. Based on such images, I create a constantly flowing process of different kinds of vibrations along with air sounds to represent falling leaves, fallen leaves, and flaps of rising butterflies’ wings. Besides this, metallic sounds/noises either with pure resonances or with intense pressure make up another important element, which is associated with my memories of the ringing bells and the metal “fallen leaves.”


匯整這些複雜的情緒與聲響,此曲講述一片葉子的歷程:它是e. e. cummings圖像詩中孤獨的落葉,是落葉雨中輕輕飄下的葉子,也是重重落地的金屬葉片。然而無論經歷多少動盪,它終將蛻化成飛昇的蝴蝶,拍動翅膀掀起龍捲風,直到下一次墜落。我試圖以此意象建構以振動聲響與氣聲為主的持續流動的過程,表現葉落與蝶飛的姿態;而帶殘響或噪音的金屬聲響是本曲另一要素,隱喻鐘鳴與金屬碰撞。

© Lily Chen 2013-2018. All rights reserved.

till we’re all in a whirl hitting the ground: for Alto Saxophone and Bass Clarinet (2015)

performed by David Wegehaupt and Jeff Anderle, Jun. 2015, Splinter Reeds Concert (Berkeley, CA, USA)

Program Note:

The title “till we’re all in a whirl hitting the ground” comes from the lyrics “let’s cross over and over till we’re all in a whirl hitting the ground” of the song “Shall We Dance,” written by a Taiwanese indie-rock band Tizzy Bac. The story of the song is about lovers struggling to move on in spite of so many barriers and difficulties in between.

In this piece, I create a continuously decaying and receding form moving gradually from the loud chaotic “climax” to the silent fusion, in order to interpret the changing process of a relationship between two persons originally belonging to two different worlds but eventually getting closer to each other after a series of conflicts, struggles, dialogues, and compromises.

© Lily Chen 2013-2018. All rights reserved.


Whirling Waves (洄瀾) : for Orchestra (2007)


Orchestra Prize for 40th Anniversary Celebration (Taipei Symphony Orchestra), 2009
─  performed by Taipei Symphony Orchestra, June 2009, 40th Anniversary Concert (Taipei, Taiwan)

Program Note:

This musical piece is entitled “Hui-Lan.” Literally, the Chinese character「洄」( pronounced as Hui) means the circling and swirling of waters;「瀾」(pronounced as Lan) means great waves. “Hui-Lan” was the ancient name of Hualien, a county located in the eastern part of Taiwan. The origin of its name was recorded in The History of Hualien County, “East of the Hualien Stream, where the waters flew into the ocean, great waves dashed against one another, forming whirls and surges. So, according to the natural phenomenon, they named the place Hui-Lan.” Later its assonance “Hualien” was used and has continued to be used till today.

Hualien-born and Hualien-bred, the composer chooses “Hui-Lan” (the ancient name of Hualien) to be the title and finds inspiration in it. She attempts to depict, through music, the scene of whirling waves produced when ocean waves and stream waters dash against each other. She extends the meaning of “Hui-Lan” and makes it identical with Hualien by transforming into music many natural elements of Hualien, such as wind blowing, birds chirping, rain dropping, clouds floating, mountain creeks flowing in the gorge, stones and rocks falling, and the Pacific surging. Furthermore, she borrows some melodic fragments (as indicated below) from “You Came,” a famous song composed by Mr. Guo Tze-jiu and familiar to people in Hualien. However, she makes them implicit and obscure through transformation. Applying part of the melody, the composer doesn’t mean to lay stress on the song, but hopes to add to this musical piece some symbolic meaning of humanistic spirit, which can be seen as a tribute to her hometown and to the composers of the preceding此曲曲名「洄瀾」,從字面上解釋,「洄」意為水流盤旋迴轉,「瀾」即為大波浪之意。「洄瀾」一詞是花蓮的古地名,花蓮縣志云:花蓮溪東,注其水與海濤激盪,迂迴澎湃,狀之以其容,故曰洄瀾。後之人諧為花蓮,至今沿襲之。


© Lily Chen 2013-2018. All rights reserved.

Four Moods: for Flute, Cello, and Piano (2009)

Performed by TNUA ensemble (Fl. 黃靖婷,Vc. 羅翡翠,Pn. 黃子臻), Jun. 2009, Taipei, Taiwan

Program Note:

The composer chooses “Four Moods” as the title of this work for two reasons: not only to depict four “sentiments or states of mind”, but also to create four kinds of musical “atmospheres” which are co-relative, though of different shades.

This work consists of four sections, whose subtitles are “solitude,” “waiting,” “illusion,” and “obsession.” These four mental conditions occur in sequence and in a cause-and-effect relationship. Solitude leads to anticipation; the futile process of restless waiting leads to illusion; the disillusionment of yearning and fantasy leads to obsession caused by a mixture of jealousy and resentment. Overwhelmed with such emotions, one falls into a state of collapse and then again feels solitude, which exists all the time. In this way, the four moods form a vicious circle.

By means of obscure musical expressions and the manipulation of timbres, the composer intends to transform these moods into music and create emotional atmospheres. The purpose for adding the subtitles to the four sections is to provide some associable and perceivable direction for the performers and the listeners, in the hope that the original thoughts of the composer can be extended infinitely through the interpretation of the performers as well as the re-interpretation of the listeners.

本曲以「Four Moods」為題,有兩層意涵:除了表達四種「情緒」,更企圖營造四種色調不同、卻相互連結的音樂「氛圍」。

Four Moods共分為四個段落(副標題為solitude,waiting,illusion,obsession),分別描寫孤獨、等待、幻覺、心魔四種情緒。四者的發展具先後與因果關係:因感受孤獨而有所企盼;不安的等待落空後,產生幻覺;憧憬和幻想終究夢碎,最後被妒恨形成之心魔所籠罩。情緒滿溢、崩潰後,又重新感受始終存在的孤獨,四種情緒再次進入惡性循環。


© Lily Chen 2013-2018. All rights reserved.

Microcosmos (小宇宙) : for a Percussionist (2010)

commissioned and premiered by Shih-San Wu 吳思珊, Jun. 2010, Taipei, Taiwan

Program Note:

This musical piece is inspired by Microcosmos: 100 Modern Haiku, a book of poetry by Chen Li (a contemporary poet in Taiwan). Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, consisting of 17 syllables, in three phrases of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively. However, Chen Li adds contemporary interest to the traditional poetic form, attempting to explore new possibilities for modern poetry. In these three-line short poems, the poet conveys an abundance of ideas and stimulates readers’ imagination with refined and concise language. Within the restricted form, every modern haiku in the book is very much like a microcosm rich in tremendous energy.

In this piece, the composer borrows the concept of Microcosmos mentioned above. In musical material, the two elements of “motion” and “motionlessness” dominate the whole piece; in instrumentation, only the timpani and the Zheng (a Chinese plucked zither) are employed. The composer attempts, by using simple and limited material, to explore multi-acoustic effects, exploit new possibilities of music, and create a simple but substantial musical microcosm.

The composer selects three short poems from Chen Li’s Microcosmos as the original concepts of the three sections of this musical piece. She transforms the energy she has felt while reading the poems into material to develop musical motives. The three sections are developed by using two materials in contrast to each other, which can be viewed as a process of the inter-transition and the rise and fall of accumulating musical energy and intensity.

The three haiku are not necessarily or absolutely related to this musical piece, though the inspiration originates from them. The purpose of listing the three poems is to provide the performer and the audience with greater room for imagination and association.

A swift and downward glissando:
someone puts a ladder
against my childhood window.

I wait and long for you:
a turning die in the empty bowl of night
attempting to create the 7th side.

Silent soybean milk: day after day
from my bowl to my body flows
the blank music.
















© Lily Chen 2013-2018. All rights reserved.

Rambling (蔓生): for Flute, Clarinet, Trombone, and Double Bass (2012)

performed by Eco Ensemble, May 2013, Berkeley New Music Project (Berkeley, CA, USA)

Program Note:

The inspiration of this piece comes from rambling plants, which to me are symbolic of vitality, with their long shoots putting out, growing, and extending over walls or other plants. Through interweaving and mixing lines of different parts as well as developing and transforming the materials, I attempt to represent the process of the plant spouting, getting exuberant, blooming, and then withering and fading. My ultimate end is to create a rambling atmosphere in music.


© Lily Chen 2013-2018. All rights reserved.



Fusing, Refusing, Diffusing: for 9 instruments (2015)

performed by eco Ensemble (conducted by David Milnes), Dec. 2016, Berkeley New Music Project (Berkeley, CA, USA)



Flute, Clarinet, Bassoon, Piano, Percussion, Harp, Violin, Viola, Cello

Program Note:

The title of the work, “Fusing, Refusing, Diffusing,” reveals the central idea I intend to express in the music. I choose the three words with the same root “fuse” to represent three phases of the timbral orchestration I’d like to explore: to fuse varieties of timbre by finding their similarities, to refuse the unity of the sounds by emphasizing the uniqueness of every single instrument, and to diffuse the hybrid or independent timbre to expand the texture, the idea, and the tension.

The idea is related not only to my research interest in the manipulation of the timbre, but also to the current situation of my country. In March 2014, many students and citizens in Taiwan occupied the parliament to protest against an illegal under-the-table approval of the trade treaty with China and prevent the government from destroying the democracy and selling Taiwan to China, which intends to aggress upon Taiwan economically and politically. Therefore, I try to transform the political issues into music to express the intention to refuse the gradual fusion and the diffusion of the refusal as a tribute to the brave protesters in Taiwan.


此曲曲名《Fusing, Refusing, Diffusing》(中文意為:融合,反融合,擴散) 即為我企圖傳達的中心意念。我選用三個擁有相同字根「fuse」的英文字彙,表達我欲探索的三種音色運用面向:融合不同的音色(尋找不同音色的同質性),拒絕聲響的統一(強調個別音色的獨特性),擴散發展聲響素材以擴大意念、織度與音樂張力。



編制說明: 長笛,降B調單簧管,低音管,擊樂(註),鋼琴,豎琴,小提琴,中提琴,大提琴

*註:擊樂編制為:小型定音鼓(timpani),吊鈸(suspended cymbals)(一只置於定音鼓上),古鈸crotales,顫音鐵琴vibraphone,管鐘(chimes),雷片(thunder sheet)


© Lily Chen 2013-2018. All rights reserved.