Jan. 16, 2023

School of Creative and Performing Arts debuts The 12 Chinese Zodiac Animals to celebrate Lunar New Year

Piano students work together with composer Vincent Ho to premiere his new pieces
Piano student Renee Pi practices with composer Vincent Ho
For piano student Renee Pi, working with Vincent Ho and having the opportunity to give input has been a wonderful experience. Jani Parsons

Students in the piano program of the School of Creative and Performing Arts will give the world premieres of Vincent Ho’s new compositions for piano, The Twelve Chinese Zodiac Animals, Book 2, Preludes and Fugues during a family friendly, free Lunar New Year concert on Sunday, Jan. 22 in the Rozsa Centre at the University of Calgary.

Acclaimed Canadian composer Vincent Ho, BMus’98, composed The Twelve Chinese Zodiac Animals, Book 1 during the pandemic, and dedicated it to his daughter. The collection was published in 2022 and 10 of the animal-inspired pieces were included in the recently launched 2022 piano syllabus of the Royal Conservatory of Music.

Ho researched each Chinese zodiac animal and tried to capture their personalities and physical gestures in the music. For example, the bunny is gentle, compassionate, and lucky with a bouncy energy that translates into considerable hopping around in the music and on the keys.

Book 1, for younger students, depicts the animals in their early years. In Book 2, which will be published in 2023-24, the animals and pianists are a bit older. The new collection consists of 12 preludes and fugues, blending traditional classical forms with Chinese harmonies, jazz influences, and a modern sensibility.

“As they grow older, each animal's personality is preserved with each book,” explains Ho. “For example, Prelude and Fugue No. 4: The Jubilant Rabbit (Book 2) is based on the broken chord ‘prancing’ technique but recreated in more advanced and sophisticated forms.”

For Ho, this was a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with current pianists and alumni at the School of Creative and Performing Arts over the past semester. The students voluntarily participated and were assigned a piece to work on.

“These pieces were composed specifically for students,” explains Ho. “I wanted to ensure there is pedagogical value to each piece, focusing on advancing a musical technique or concept. Our collaborative discussions have inspired many ideas that have helped shape each movement in very creative ways.”

“It is a landmark project across Canadian institutions to bring together an acclaimed Canadian composer of Vincent's status with students to premiere an entire concert of new music for the piano,” says Jani Parsons, head of the piano program at the School of Creative and Performing Arts.

Throughout the project, I have been impressed and inspired by the adventurous and committed spirit of the students in our piano program, and Vincent's coaching and work with each student has opened up new pathways of creativity and possibility.

For many of these students, it is the first time they are working one-on-one with a living composer in the creation of new work for performance. “This is among the most enriching musical experiences I have ever had,” says student Ronan Paulhus. “Vincent Ho is a highly attentive and creative composer, and I am looking forward to sharing his music.”

The culmination of this composer/performer project will fall on Chinese New Year 2023 and audience members will witness how these magical Zodiac pieces come alive on stage for the very first time, each with their own spirit.

“I know these fresh pieces, inspired by the Zodiac, will take a celebrated place in the piano repertoire,” says Parsons, “and our UCalgary students will have had an enormous part to play in their initial launch into the world.”

Vince Ho and Jani Parsons will hold a pre-concert talk on Jan. 22 at 1:30 p.m., followed by the concert at 2 p.m. in the Rozsa Centre.

After the performances, there will be a reception where you can meet the pianists — April Reyes, Ronan Paulhus, Ray Wang, Renee Pi, Kiwa Fukuchi, Christine Sul, MMus'21, Jerry Liao, Anika Acasio, Amanda Caceres, Dakota Perez, Jarome Harlea, BMus'22, Agata Skulimowska and Braiden May — and composer Vincent Ho while enjoying some Chinese refreshments. 

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