Jason Kao Hwang: The Floating Box
Liner Notes   Cat. No. 80626     Release Date: 2005-01-01

Sandia Ang, soprano; Ryu-Kyung Kim, mezzo-soprano; Zheng Zhou, baritone; Min Xiao Fen, pipa; Diana Herold, vibraphone, percussion; Patti Monson, piccolo, flute, alto flute; William Schimmel, accordion; Michiyo Suzuki, B flat clarinet, bass clarinet; Satoshi Takeishi, percussion; Tomas Ulrich, cello; Wang Guowei, gaohu, erhu, zhonghu; Juan Carlos Rivas, conductor

Jason Kao Hwang (b 1957) is a highly respected improviser who also has a number of compositions and film scores to his credit. The Floating Box is a major contemporary work that gives voice not only to the Asian immigrant experience in America in particular but also to the immigrant experience in general.

With the collaboration of librettist Catherine Filloux, The Floating Box is an original story inspired by the oral histories of Chinese-Americans living in Chinatown. The story of Eva/Yee-Wa, a young Chinese-American woman living with her mother, is the story of many diasporic peoples who have sought a better life in new, often harsh surroundings. The poetry of Filloux's libretto fuses perfectly with Hwang's eclectic score, beautifully capturing the complex, intimate relationships among these three characters.

The opera employs both Chinese and Western instruments in an ensemble of eight players: piccolo/flute/alto flute; B-flat clarinet/bass clarinet; vibraphone; pipa (Chinese lute); accordion; percussion, including Tibetan chimes and singing bowls, whirling air tubes, Chinese tom toms, and a Buddhist fan drum; erhu/gaohu/zhonghu (a family of two-stringed Chinese violins categorized as huqin); and cello.

In Hwang's skilled hands, these instruments together forge a rich amalgam of sound-in the composer's words, "complex suspensions rather than homogenous solutions." The precision with which Hwang mines each instrument's sonic possibilities and the imaginative ways with which he draws upon subsets of the full ensemble result in a vibrant musical narrative that propels the drama forward to its conclusion. The kaleidoscopic range of musical styles employed-atonality, blues, Broadway, Chinese opera, chromaticism, impressionism, jazz, pop-establishes The Floating Box as the work of an artist who is completely comfortable bridging multiple musical worlds.

Sandia Ang

Jason Kao Hwang: The Floating Box

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