Lei Liang (b. 1972) Verge (2009)

Chinese-born American composer Lei Liang is Associate Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego. He received his first piano lessons at the age of four, and began composing at age six. In 1990, Liang immigrated to the USA as a high school student. He studied piano with William Race in Austin, Texas before shifting his focus to composition, and received degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music (BM & MM) and Harvard University (PhD). His composition teachers include Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Robert Cogan, Chaya Czernowin, Mario Davidovsky, Joshua Fineberg, Elliott Gyger, Lee Hyla, and Bernard Rands. As a scholar, he is especially interested in the research and preservation of traditional Asian music, and he conducted an extensive interview with the guqin-player Ni Qiu-ping (1905-95) in collaboration with the World Music Archive at Loeb Music Library of Harvard University. He also digitized historical recordings of guqin music for the Music Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Arts in Beijing. He is the co-producer of the historical recordings of the Mongolian chaoer player Serashi (1887-1968) released by China Record Corporation.

Lei Liang offers the following note for Verge:

This piece was composed on the verge of an exciting moment in my life: the birth of our son Albert Shin Liang. Albert’s musical name – A, B (Bb), E, D (re) – asserts itself in different configurations and disguises as the basic harmonic and melodic material. His heartbeat also makes an appearance in the form of changing tempi and pulsations. In a sense, I composed the piece in order to make a musical amulet for Albert.

On a technical level, I was fascinated by the dialectical relationship between the convergence and divergence of musical voices found in the traditional heterophonic music of Mongolia. There, the functionality of a principal line and its accompaniment can interchange, and often not synchronously.

The 18 strings are divided into antiphonal groups: left versus right, front versus rear. They diverge into various sub-ensembles, quartets, and also appear as 18 virtuosic soloists. Near the end, they converge into a singular voice.

Verge was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and its Music Director, Alan Gilbert. It was premiered on December 17, 2009 in Symphony Space at the inaugural concert of the Philharmonic’s new music series CONTACT!, conducted by Magnus Lindberg.