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Playing West to East
Teresa McCollough, SCU professor of music, played a sold-out recital at the Beijing Modern Music Festival
By Elizabeth Kelley Gillogly ’93
"To think you can sell out a concert of new piano music! It would almost never happen here,” says Teresa McCollough, SCU professor of music, who in May performed a sold-out solo recital in the Beijing Modern Music Festival. Featuring “Pianogongs,” a newly commissioned work for solo piano and Chinese opera gongs by composer Zhou Long, the recital was part of the third Beijing New Music Festival at the Central Conservatory in Beijing, the oldest and most prestigious music school in China. McCollough, with generous support from SCU, commissioned “Pianogongs,” and she premiered the piece at SCU in a preview concert on May 21 before she departed for China.
Zhou Long, originally from Beijing, teaches at the Kansas City Conservatory in Missouri, and he divides his time between Kansas City and New York, while also traveling around the world to hear his works performed by major orchestras, ensembles, and soloists. His wife, composer Chen Yi, will be the guest composer for the Santa Clara New Music Festival scheduled for February 2006.
A piece by Zhou Long, Wu Ji, is also included on McCollough’s most recent CD: Music for Hammers and Sticks, which is a collection of music for piano and percussion by American composers Alex Shapiro, Belinda Reynolds, Alvin Singleton, Steve Mackey, Joe Harchanko, and Zhou Long. SCU provided support for four of the compositions commissioned by McCollough on this recently released CD. (Download Wu Ji from this CD.)
One of the memorable moments in her Beijing concert, says McCollough, came when she introduced a piece called the “Sandhill Crane Migration Variations” by Steven Heitzeg. “I talk a lot when I play,” says McCollough. “I have played this piece all over the world, and I always introduce it.” The piece, she explains, has “a lot of imagery…and there are references to other composers…and at the end the pianist does this thing with her arms that is supposed to signal the sandhill crane in flight.” However, McCollough had never addressed an audience using a translator. “I was unprepared for what that would feel like,” she says, “how laborious it would feel. But I think in the end, I was glad that I did it because I don’t think the piece has the same impact if you don’t do it.”
During her visit, McCollough also met informally with many conservatory students, whom she says were fascinated with Western music. “They are so eager to learn about it and so interested in all the different things we are doing,” she says. “I loved the students. They are so excited. They are…not jaded.” One shocking revelation for McCollough, however, was the restrictions on students’ access to musical scores. “The composition students that I worked with have a library, but they are not allowed to check out the scores,” she explained, making it very difficult for them to learn about new music.
“For all of the progress that has been made in terms of the exchange with the West, I don’t think they have as much exposure to Western music as one might imagine,” she says. McCollough was the only Western soloist in the entire festival, and there was one other Western ensemble.
McCollough has been invited back to the festival in future years. For more information, visit www.teresamccollough.com.
Visit www.newmusicbox.org, the web magazine from the New Music Center, to read an article by McCollough about her trip to China.