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Composed: 2004
Length: c. 20 minutes
Orchestration: timpani, percussion, piano, celesta, harp, and strings

Coming of age during China’s Cultural Revolution, Qigang Chen went through three years of “ideological re-education,” but he emerged determined as ever to study Western classical music. He was among the first class of students admitted to the Central Conservatory in Beijing when it reopened in 1977, and his top marks upon graduating in 1983 earned him a scholarship to study abroad. He moved in 1984 to Paris, and for the next four years he took private lessons with Olivier Messiaen, who once said of Chen, “His compositions display real inventiveness, very great talent, and a total assimilation of Chinese thinking to European musical concepts.” Messiaen did more than provide a link to the French sound world of Debussy and Ravel that had long fascinated Chen; he was, Chen acknowledged, “the first person to tell me you have to be true to yourself. This is fundamental for an artist, but few of us are brave enough to face the truth. It took me many years to discover who I really am.”

The orchestral work Enchantements oubliés (Forgotten Enchantments), commissioned by the Orchestre National de France in 2004, also relates to Chen’s process of self-discovery. In the liner notes for a recent recording on the Naxos label, Chen explained, “Refined beauty often shows too many traces of deliberate planning and, on close inspection, signs of deception and falseness. The most powerful beauty is of course the least processed: that is, nature. … In writing this piece, I wanted to set myself free of the usual technical constraints and let the music lead me to wherever it seemed willing to go by itself – and I would simply record the journey of this natural force by notating it.”

Enchantements oubliés takes the form of a fanciful tone poem, moving freely through evocative episodes. Intimate solo passages and lyrical melodies impart a nostalgic mood, but there are also moments of considerable vigor and humor. Many of the themes are built on pentatonic modes, reflecting a characteristic sound from traditional Chinese music.

Notes provided by Columbia Artists Management. © 2016 Aaron Grad