cross-cultural

TaiHei Ensemble: garden reflections

New music by University of Oregon composers inspired by Portland's Lan Su Chinese Garden premieres in Eugene and Portland concerts

by GARY FERRINGTON 

A new day at Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden begins. The morning’s multi-hued sky reflected in a koi filled pond is accompanied by the sounds of birdsong and the gentle trickling of a waterfall hidden in a bamboo alcove. This walled-in botanical oasis of Chinese native flora, art, architecture, and calm — one of the most authentic Suzhou-style gardens outside China — was the destination last October of a cadre of University of Oregon graduate students beginning a year-long music composition project.

Organized by Eugene’s student-managed TaiHei Ensemble, the “One Day in a Chinese Garden” project immersed ten invited composers from the Oregon Composers Forum in a day of Chinese art and culture. The highlight was a 45-minute docent-led walking tour of the garden that ended at the teahouse, where composers heard a program of traditional Chinese music performed on authentic instruments by members of the Portland Wisdom Art Academy.

Lan Su Chinese Garden Reflective pond with Moon Locking Pavilion. Photo: Jared Knight

After a full day of sensory exposure to a multitude of cultural experiences, the participants composed, based upon their garden visit and further individual research into Chinese culture and music, a 5-8 minute piece for TaiHei Ensemble, known for exploring and enacting international dialogs across the Pacific Rim through music. On Tuesday, TaiHei performs the music in the first of three 2019 concerts. Like the image of the sky in the garden’s reflecting pool, their compositions reflect aspects of the garden’s physical attributes as well as the ideas it signifies and other notions gleaned from their experience in the garden.

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