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CLASSICAL  February 2008

CLASSICAL February 2008

Subject:

Is There a Suona Player in the House?

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 19 Feb 2008 22:34:56 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (64 lines)

Twin fascinations with words and opera commingled excitingly when I
saw this weekend the San Francisco Opera announcement of auditions for
"Chinese-style percussionists and one suona player." Wisely, the Opera
didn't bother to explain what "suona" is; after all, if you don't know,
how could you play it?  Here's the result of deep research for the rest
of us:

Also known as laba, haidi or shawm (this is getting better and better),
suona is - somewhat anticlimatically - the Chinese oboe, or double-reeded
trumpet, with that distinctively loud and high-pitched sound that you
would easily recognize even without the faintest idea what it's called.
It's irresistible to note that suona is most frequently featured in wind
and percussion ensembles called chuida or guchui.  Our linguistic cup
is overflowing, especially after checking with my favorite professor of
ethnomusicology, UC Santa Cruz's Fred Lieberman:

"The traditional spelling is sona or so-na, and it is a member of the
generic shawm family (shawm being the preferred term for all double-reed,
conical bore, folk instruments).  The instrument is found throughout
Europe and Asia in varying forms, usually as part of an outdoors ensemble
(because it's LOUD) together with drums - either kettledrums as in the
Indian Naubat ensemble or bass-drums as in the Balkan-Macedonian versions.
The long versions are temple instruments in India (nagaswaram) and Tibet
(gyaling).

"Its small reed can be either double or quadruple (in the Burmese and
related versions), and typically it is played more like a bagpipe than
an oboe - that it, the lips do no touch the reed, but rather the lips
are sealed against a round metal `gasket' and the reed freely vibrates
in the mouth.  The cheeks puff out for maximum air quantity, to allow
for circular breathing and therefore continuous tone."

Returning to the matter at hand, souna, sona or so-na players may audition
on Feb.  28, 29 (this being a leap year) or March 1, arrangements to be
made with SFO Musical Administrator Kip Cranna, at [log in to unmask]
Suona players and percussion applicants should bring their own equipment
and must be able to read music well.

So why the need for these "exotic" instruments?  In preparation for
the Sept.  13 world premiere of the David Gockley-commissioned "The
Bonesetter's Daughter," by Stewart Wallace, to a libretto based on Amy
Tan's novel.  The story takes place in China and San Francisco, about a
woman who, escorted by a ghost, travels into her immigrant mother's past
and discovers what they share.  Wallace is said to have created an
American opera with roots in China, incorporating the timbres and textures
of Chinese music into a highly theatrical and lyrical score.  The opera
features a Beijing Opera percussion section, led by Li Zhonghua, and two
suonas, one of which is played by Beijing rock singer and master wind
player Wu Tong.

Steven Sloane will conduct, Chen Shi-Zheng is the stage director, set
design by Walt Spangler, costumes by Han Feng. In addition to Chinese
singers, the San Francisco production will feature Zheng Cao, Catherine
Cook, and James Maddalena.

Janos Gereben
www.sfcv.org
[log in to unmask]

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