In this series, we present our new composers. We are proud to introduce Alissa Long.
Please tell us about yourself and what you do.
I was born in Jordan, raised in Taiwan, and am now permanently based in New Zealand. My parents are Taiwanese and because of my father’s work, I spent my childhood in Amman, Jordan and Cairo, Egypt for nearly 10 years. While living in Jordan I studied at an international school and I made a variety of friends from different countries around the world. This gave me a taste for learning from others and enjoying diverse cultures.
Throughout my childhood my main instrument was actually Electone Piano at the Yamaha studio in Taiwan, as at the time this was a new and exciting musical instrument. I played Electone for over 13 years and won several competitions and prizes. Unfortunately, Electone never became an officially supported instrument major in music school. Instead, I majored in composition with a second major in piano all the way from high school up to graduate school, where I received my Masters of Arts in Music in 2011. Looking back at those years playing Electone, I believe it was very helpful for me in gaining orchestration, composition, and improvisation abilities.
Highlights of my early career have included commissions by Pei Yu Wang, Yun Ju Pan and Taiwan’s Ju Percussion Group, who premiered my piece Hayao Miyazaki’s Magic World for big percussion band, and premiered it at the Taiwan National Concert hall – the top venue for such performances in the country. In 2011 I met my current husband at the Asian Composers League festival and conference, and we moved to Wellington together in 2014. At this time I was also working as a composition, theory, and piano teacher at a number of studios and schools.
During my time in Wellington, my piece Love of the Ocean for female choir was the ﬁrst prize winner in the Taiwan Choral Association Competition 2016. This work was assigned as an oﬃcial competition piece nationally in Taiwan schools and has been published and performed extensively. Also I represented New Zealand as a composer with my Cello Solo Awaken Memories of Loneliness (at the 2014 Yogyakarta Contemporary Music Festival) and with my large orchestra piece The Corner of the War (performed at the 2015 Asian Composers League festival in the Philippines).
In late 2017, we moved to Christchurch and recent successes have included Popoto Waiata for percussion duet, which was performed at the 2018 ACL festival, and Scherzo for Percussion Quartet Performed by Ju Percussion Group in March 2019 at the Taiwan National Concert Hall.
My recent work has focused on combining indigenous and local original music from the native cultures of my homeland with my new experiences as an immigrant exploring New Zealand’s many musics.
Please tell us about your music.
My most recent composition was inspired by a Taiwanese folk song called “Fishing Song”, originally sung by members of the Amis-Kiwit tribe. The title “Popoto Waiata” translates from Maori to English as “Song for the Māui Dolphin”.
In the composition of it, I acknowledge the challenges and opportunities for development posed by ecological problems that have occurred during my years living in New Zealand. As a composer, I hope that my music can cause listeners to reflect on the precarious state of different issues and inspire listeners to support cross-cultural conservation efforts.
Lupine Journey for Clarinet in Bb was dedicated to my first child, Isaac, born in 2018.
In the folklore of the Hakka tribe in Taiwan, Lupins represent happiness and motherly love, and it is said that the beautiful flowers were introduced to the New Zealand McKenzie region by a farmer’s wife to bring beauty to the mountain trails. The windy and treacherous paths of the area give way to spectacular and rewarding landscapes. My own travel through the region coincided with my journey toward motherhood, and deep parallels were felt between the flower, the landscape, and my own experience.
Lupine Journey traces this voyage toward motherhood, with its dramatic emotional and physical twists and turns, using thematic material from a well-known Taiwanese song named after the venerated flower. Pentatonic material from the song is juxtaposed with octatonic elements, reflecting the precarious balance between stability and instability, life and death. The inevitable dramatic climax that brings life into the world is followed by a surge of unconditional love.
Scherzo for Percussion Quartet was Performed by Ju percussion group in March 2019 in Taiwan National concert hall.
“Scherzo” is a piece which describes emotions such as joy, anger, sadness, and fear and personifies these through the percussion performers. Throughout our daily lives we can quickly switch between these different emotions, and our experiences are coloured by them. When we interact with each other, the way we express ourselves and perceive others is greatly influenced by our unstable emotional states, creating complex social dynamics. It uses irregular rhythm, tempo and time signature relationships in order to recreate the characteristics of these interactions as emotions flow, spread, morph, and influence each other.
What are you working on at the moment?
My large orchestra piece, The Corner of the War was selected for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra 2019 composer session and will be recorded in July. Lately, I have been corresponding with the NZSO and doing a lot of score editing work. I feel so honoured to be part of such a wonderful opportunity to work with the top orchestra in the country.
Also I’m grateful for the acknowledgement and validation of my work as a New Zealand composer. I can’t wait to be a part of the sessions, and am looking forward to working with the Orchestra, meeting all the great composers and musicians involved, learning about the professional orchestral recording process, and hearing the outcome.
In addition I’m preparing a piece for this year’s Nelson Composers Workshop. I’m very honoured to be invited as a composer mentor, and it will be my first time attending. I can’t wait to be a part of this very unique event!
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