Piano Concerto No.4

Unlike a 5-minute orchestral exposition in a piano concerto from the Romantic times, this piece starts with a piano monologue of almost 5 minutes. As it lures the listener into the fantasy of post-romanticism, the harmony suddenly dissolves. The music continues to take the guise of more traditional harmonies and passages that sound like classical or romantic clichés, while at times being interrupted by psychic beats from percussions or blended with eerie voices from the piano. It ends on a question mark instead of an exclamation mark, and the question is shared by many artists of our time: how much tradition should I absorb as I am forming my own style?

Shuang Xu is a Chinese composer, physicist and engineer. His portfolio consists of more than 30 works of a variety of genres, among which are three piano concertos, one violin concerto, several pieces for string quartet and a quintet for Asian instruments.

Born in Nanjing, China, Xu took an unusual path in musical education. Beginning with piano playing around the age of fourteen, he delved straight into the analysis of contemporary music and compositional theory before studying music history and composition by himself. For ten years in higher education institutions pursuing a degree in physical science. Xu was heavily engaged in musical activities at the same time. Asa pianist, he was a keen advocator of contemporary music and performed a lot of new music including his own in his undergraduate school in China. Little known as a composer, nonetheless he has received several private commissions, and his works have been performed in China, USA, France, and Austria.

Xu’s music style spans over a broad spectrum, and his work often exhibits modern techniques applied to conventional sound materials. A notable aspect in his output is that many of his compositions are rooted in nature in a unique way owing to his specialty in physics. He has observed that many natural processes, viewed at a fundamental, physical level, bear remarkable resemblance to the composers’ methods of organising, processing and developing musical materials, sometimes termed as “musical logic” in music theory (Taylor 1974; Ries, 2000). With such realizatdion, he has attempted at musicalising natural phenomena of nature-inspired music that is not, in the conventional sense, an emotional expression invoked by nature, but rather a musical organism following certain patterns originated in nature.

The highlights in his category include Schrodinger’s Violin, Fractals, Silica, Basis Transformation and Phaes Transition, all of which are musical representations of the title. Xu has gone even further and borrowed concepts in subjects besides science. For example, in his string quartet Satin, the four instruments are orchestrated to knit a certain musical texture, and in Ballade, the music materials role-play as different social classes in a setting of ancient China.

In addition to music, Xu enjoys molecules and mountains. He holds a PhD in chemical physics from the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA. He is currently living in San Diego California.