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Ching-chu Hu

Composer Ching-chu Hu

Discussing a world premiere

Born in Iowa City, Iowa, Ching-chu Hu (M.A., M.F.A. in composition, 1996) studied at Yale University, Freiburg Musikhochschule in Freiburg, Germany, The University of Iowa, and the University of Michigan, where he earned his Doctorate of Musical Arts in Composition. His composition teachers included William Bolcom, William Albright, Michael Daugherty, Leslie Bassett, Bright Sheng, Evan Chambers, David Gompper and Richard Hervig. His conducting teachers included Alastair Neale, David Stern, and James Dixon. He also studied piano with Donald Currier, Stéphane Lemelin, and Logan Skelton and bass with Diana Gannett and Eldon Oberecht.

Hu is a frequent collaborator with the University of Iowa School of Music: the UI Symphony Orchestra and Professor of Violin Scott Conklin performed his Violin Concerto No. 3, "Water Spirits" in April 2015, and performed the world premiere of his composition The Phoenix in 2016 for the opening of the new Voxman Music Building.

Hu's work "Glaciers Red: Vistas Veiled," Concerto for Violin, will be premiered by the UI Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday, February 26. He offers more insight into his composition below:

When did you begin working on the piece? When was it finished?

Glaciers Red: Vistas Veiled is a violin concerto that actually started out as a work for violin and piano. At the time, I envisioned the work as one that could one day be a work for violin and orchestra, so I thought about some of the expectations of a concerto - a cadenza, a larger first movement with contrasting themes, multiple movements, etc. and wrote with those ideas in mind for a vehicle that was more easily performed as a solo violin work accompanied by the piano. 

As an orchestral work, I started re-imagining it and making it work for orchestra this past summer and finished it by the end of last year.

Who will be performing the solo?

Dr. Scott Conklin, who is an amazing artist. He is so meticulous and careful in producing every note, making every line sing. It's great watching him put music together.

What inspired you to create the piece?

I had a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and it was one of my first residencies. At an artist colony, composers, visual artists, writers, filmmakers, choreographers, etc are given studio space and the best asset that an artist can have - uninterrupted time. So at the Leighton Studios at Banff, I was surrounded by the most beautiful scenic surroundings, a piano, and a studio where I could compose 24 hours a day. I would say that the scenery and the contrast of man vs nature really captured my imagination, as there were wildfires that summer and I saw other man-made destruction of the Canadian Rockies that shocked me.

Have you written anything else that was premiered by the Symphony Orchestra?

Yep! I had written another concerto for Dr. Conklin entitled Water Spirit, which he premiered with the Symphony Orchestra under the direction of William LaRue Jones back in 2015. That actually led to a commission from Maestro Jones to write The Phoenix, which served as a fanfare for the orchestra the following year for their first performance at the opening of the newly (re)constructed Hancher Auditorium and at the Voxman Music Building.

What challenges did you face along the way of composing it?

It was an interesting experience - as I initially wrote it for violin and piano, there were ways of thinking about the work as a chamber work that allows for the nimbleness of a duet, meaning, with two players, it's often easier to communicate and shape a variety of lines and textures in an intimate setting. When reimagining it to a large performing force like an orchestra, I realized I had to reshape the piece so that it would work for an ensemble that was around 60 people and the dynamic of having a soloist working with, alongside, and against a large force that can easily overwhelm the instrument. 

I really enjoyed having the expansion of colors - it's like as a child being "promoted" from using their 8 color crayon box to suddenly getting 64 crayons. I wanted to try different colors, but still keep a clarity of ideas that didn't make it "messy."

What do you want your audience to understand about the piece?

I hope they will read the program notes and think about the relationship we have with nature - the power of the natural elements and the responsibility we have to respect the land we live on. I hope they will enjoy getting to know the music, the motives, the textures. It's always fascinating to see how audiences react to new music. Although this work will present music that they have never heard before, it is cast in familiar architectural framework that audiences would find familiar, from the structure of a concerto to various tonal "touchstones" that will serve as guideposts through the piece. I hope they like it!

Is there anything else you would like to share with your audience?

I could not be more grateful for this opportunity and wish to thank Maestro David Becker and Scott Conklin. I was born in Iowa City, grew up here, received my education at Iowa, and could not be more proud of the training I received. When seeing the new Voxman Music Building, which shows the world the impact and the education of the University of Iowa School of Music, I couldn't be more proud to be a Hawkeye.

Composition and Music Theory Faculty