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Huang Ruo, Senior Conservatory Composition Major, Releases CD of Original Works, "Music of Huang Ruo"

Story by Claire Chase
Photo by
Linda Shockley

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At age 23, senior Conservatory composition major Huang Ruo is already known to the music worlds of two continents as a promising composer and brilliant young mind looking toward a new millennium of music-making. In his native China, Huang's work has been broadcast on Chinese television and featured on numerous occasions at the annual Spring Festival of Shanghai. In Switzerland, the young composer was awarded the 1995 Henry Mancini Award at the prestigious International Film and Music Festival. His work has been spotlighted on Radio-Canada and Radio-Shanghai, honored by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), and presented at noted conferences and symposiums in Boston, Ann Arbor, Aspen, Tempe and Cleveland.

Huang recently released a CD recording of nine original works written from 1991-1999. The CD, titled "Music of Huang Ruo," which features Oberlin student performers, will be available at the Co-op Bookstore at the end of November ((800/860-3741; coopbks@aol.com).

With guidance and encouragement from his father, also a composer, Huang began both piano and composition studies at an early age. "I started to write songs - pop songs, art songs, children's songs - when I was about four or five. My father urged me to express everything I was able to feel at that age through simple music. My composition was very free, very natural: like speech, like walking. I never thought, 'I am composing,'…I just wrote. Poetry, lyrics, melodies were all the same to me," reminisces Huang.

At age 12, Huang was accepted to the pre-college division of the Shanghai Conservatory, where he began composition studies with the celebrated Chinese composer Deng Erbo. "Mr. Erbo was a wonderful teacher for me at that time--he taught me the structural and theoretical aspects of composition through musical example, not through textbooks. He told me that if I am an apple seed, I will grow into an apple tree. In other words, if I am an apple seed I will not, and should not, grow into Mahler or Beethoven, or Erbo, or anyone else. He wanted me to become myself, from the very beginning."

While at the Shanghai Conservatory, Huang studied both Eastern and Western compositional techniques and musical philosophies. "I developed my own voice as a Chinese composer, as one who was born and raised in that part of the world with different experiences of music, sound, culture and life. But my voice is informed by my experience with Western music as well. The idea in the end is that when you finally come out of your shell, there is no difference between the two worlds. We are all members of a world village, though everyone must speak with their own accent, their own voice."

At age 18, Huang came to the United States and enrolled in an English as a Second Language program at the University of California at Los Angeles. He struggled with the language and adapted with some difficulty to the culture of the large, foreign city. "But I got very close to this new world, and I lived in many places, tried many new ways of life. All this had an enormous effect on my music."

Huang began his studies with Professor of Composition and Music Theory Randolph Coleman at Oberlin Conservatory in the fall of 1996. Over the past three years his work has been performed with great success by the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra, the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble and the Cleveland Chamber Symphony. Ruo also teaches a popular EXCO course, Composing Music, open to students of all levels, from both the College and the Conservatory.

"I have come to learn that music is about a person experiencing life and reacting to it. I try to tell my composition students this: that music is part of nature, that nature is part of the world. I try to tell people how very simple it is. Music surrounds us, it is everywhere. Our body is music. And we cannot live without it."

Huang's new CD is a compilation of much of the work he has created in America during the last five years. "My listeners, I hope, will be able to view a little bit of the history of my life, how it has changed and molded my music. The individual pieces on this CD are very different from one another; Each piece was written in a different time, for different reasons. I believe that the truth of music lies in its reason to exist. Every note of my music has a reason for being there, and has a story to tell."




I. Prelude For Orchestra



performed by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony with Edwin London


II. Fanfare 1998--for Orchestra



performed by the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra with Tim Weiss


Composer's Remarks:

"Two Pieces for Orchestra is a combination of two pieces which are contrary to one another in style, orchestration, density and color. I try to use orchestral sound to describe the philosophy of Ying and Yang, and how they change and balance each other."






(for string octet)
Claude Sim (violin I), Felix Petit, (violin II), Wendy Richman (viola I), Elizabeth Freivogel (viola II), Alexander Waterman (cello I), Kivie Cahn-Lipman (cello II), Mike O'Connell (double bass I), Nikki Bartniki (double bass II), David Schotzko (tam-tam)


Audio Excerpts:

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Composer's Remarks:

Drama Theater I:A Q is based on a Chinese novel "The True Story of A Q (A Q is a tragic character's name) written by Mr. Lu Xun.

Excerpt 1--"But presently he changed defeat into victory. Raising his right hand he slapped his own face hard, twice, so that it tingled with pain. After this slapping his heart felt lighter, for it seemed as if the one who had given the slap was himself, the one slapped the other self, and soon it was just as if he beaten someone else--in spite of the fact that his face was still tingling. He lay down satisfied that he had gained the victory. Soon he was asleep."

Excerpt 2--"A Q was lifted on to an uncovered cart….In front were a number of soldiers and militiamen shouldering foreign rifles, and on both sides were crowds of gaping spectators…Suddenly it occurred to him, Can I be going to have my head cut off? Panic seized him and everything turned dark before his eyes…Although he felt frightened some of the time, the rest of the time he was quite calm. It seemed to him that in this world probably it was the fate of everybody at some time to have his head cut off…"

Excerpt 3--"At that instant his thoughts revolved again like a whirlwind. Four years before, at the foot of a mountain, he had met a hungry wolf which had followed at a set distance, wanting to eat him. He had nearly died of fright, but luckily he happened to have a knife in his had which gave him the courage to get back to Weizhuang. He had never forgotten that wolf's eyes, fierce yet cowardly, gleaming like two will-o-the-wisps, as if boring into him from a distance. Now he saw eyes more terrible even than the wolf's: dull yet penetrating eyes that having devoured his words still seemed eager to devour something beyond his flesh and blood. And these eyes kept following him at a set distance. These eyes seemed to have merged into onw, biting into his soul. 'Help! Help'"



SIWAY--Four Dimensions



(for three piccolos and conductor)
Lisa Jacklitsch (piccolo I), Becky Weidman (piccolo II),
Julia Taylor (piccolo III), Huang Ruo (conductor)


Audio Excerpts:

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Composer's Remarks:

"SIWAY--Four Dimensions--I've combined Western and Eastern styles of music to explore the natural world through dimensions, using height as the range, length as the duration, width as the dynamic, and time as both sound and silence. The piece was written for three piccolos that represent the first three dimensions and a conductor who controls time: the sound and the silence."






(for viola and clarinet)
Duke Lee (viola), Kate Bolton (clarinet)


Composer's Remarks:

"BEING… is originally written for Viola and Alto Saxophone. On this recording is a version I arranged for viola and clarinet. Everything in the world has its simple side. For me, nothing more meaningful than simply and freely existing. The important thing is not about being what and where, but 'being' itself."






(for mezzo-soprano and piano)
Julie Cross (mezzo-soprano), Huang Ruo (piano)


Composer's Remarks:

"SEASONS is based on a cycle of haiku by Basho. It is about the nature of four seasons:"

I don't know
which tree is comes from
that fragrance

What voice
what song,
spider, in the Autumn wind

The winter sun
on the horse back
my frozen shadow

A petal shower
of Mountain roses,
and the sound of rapids






(for piano, left)
Huang Ruo (piano)


Composer's Remarks:

"Have you ever lost something which is very important in your life, but at the same moment, you have something remaining in your heart?"

LEFT has three meanings:

  1. ....is gone
  2. ....remains
  3. left






(for cello)
Alex Waterman (cello)


Audio Excerpts:

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Composer's Remarks:

"IF TO LIVE, TO…was inspired by how I understand and taste life. I wrote it during a time of struggle. I believe that there's always a way to achieve or accomplish something, but it may not always be easy. In this piece, I hope you can hear how struggle sounds, how the effort to move beyond the struggle sounds, and how resolution sounds. Through it all, it's important to have a belief, a faith that the future will bring an understanding of how to face the difficulties. The trick, of course, is to face the struggle and learn from it."






(for violin and piano)
Esther Noh (violin), Thomas Rosenkranz (piano)


Composer's Remarks:

"YU HUO is a landscape of my home town, Hai Nan Island."




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