Composed in 2001, Qigang Chen’s Iris devoilee has now made it to the Proms, and it still comes over with marvellous freshness. Chen’s back-story is typical of his generation: born into a cultured family in 1951, he saw his parents sent to a labour camp in the Cultural Revolution, and he himself underwent ‘re-education’; he was one of the first students admitted when the Beijing Conservatory was reopened; then he went West, studied under Messiaen, and settled in France.
And it’s Messiaen’s influence which pervades this work in a fusion with three traditional Chinese instruments plus a fourth in the form of a Peking Opera singer whose voice was the most potent and Protean instrument on stage.
Chen has devised an elaborate literary programme to ‘explain’ this work, but it needs no explanation: its forty-two minutes slipped by in a gorgeous sequence of atmospheres, often dreamlike, occasionally furiously galvanised, as the Chinese conductor Xian Zhang led the BBC National Orchestra of Wales through Chen’s delicately-constructed sonic labyrinth.
Showcasing the bewitching sounds of the pipa lute, the erhu fiddle, the zheng zither, and the wonderful Meng Meng in Peking opera mode, it makes a powerful case for further fusions of this kind. And by the way, the audience loved it.Reuse content