High Island Violin Concerto was written between November 2009 and September 2010, and lasts for around 40 minutes. I have had ideas for a violin concerto dating back to early 2009. The original beginning written was too “brutal” and thus I abandoned it, the material reused in the violin solo piece Speed. At one point I also considered arranging the abandoned material into a piano concerto.
Finally the idea that struck me was to write a violin concerto based on the Cantonese opera melody (siukuk 小曲) Temple Chimes (襌院鐘聲), which I have encountered because of my school’s “Cantonese opera in English” performances. (Simply put, a traditional Cantonese opera replaced entirely by English text.) A week after the introduction was written, I paid a visit to the High Island Reservoir in Sai Kung and was captured by the beautiful scenery. The introduction then sounded to me like a sun rising in the east (the imitation on Temple Chimes starting from double bass -> trombone -> trumpet and so on), with sea waves (the descending figures on flutes and strings) roaring in distance. Thus was the beginning of the concerto.
The first movement (F minor) starts with the abovementioned “rising sun” introduction with is broken by a violin cadenza. The main theme is developed from the “descending figure”. This and the second theme are relatively calmer than the introduction. The development starts with a restatement of the main theme before ventures into other material reminiscent of a storm. An extended violin cadenza leads into the recapitulation, a significantly shortened version of the exposition. The reappearance of the second theme is even more lonely and “cold” in character, with the solo violin taking the lead. A brief coda based on Temple Chimes ends the movement.
The second movement (Bb minor) is based on another melody, The Lament of Wang Chaojun (昭君怨) which appears in the introduction on the oboe and clarinet. The main theme is songful, and the atmosphere is calm while melancholic. The virtuosic solo violin line is furthered in the middle section in Eb minor, with the music higher in range and more unrestful. Lyrical episodes are intercalated with thoughtful moments. The return of the main theme is even deeper and calmer than the beginning. The movement ends with a restatement of the introduction in major key.
The third movement (F minor), in rondo form, is derived from the descending motif from the 1st movement, this time with a vivid character. The first episode retains the vivid character of the main theme. The return of the main theme leads to a lyrical praise to nature (akin to a “song without words”). The music comes near to a halt but a violin cadenza leads to the stately and simple second episode which exhibits the joyous character of rural Hong Kong. The music builds up until the descending motif reappears, forcing the momentum to a halt. The lonely second theme from the first movement makes its reappearance, leading to the restless third episode. A brief cadenza leads to the triumphant return of the main theme before the coda which pushes the tempo forward again and again, bringing the concerto to a close with a final quote of the Temple Chimes melody.