Chen Yi’s Dreaming of My Hometown for Guitar and Orchestra

Orchestra image

Alexander Paszkowicz


Dr Chen Yi’s Dreaming of My Hometown for Guitar and Orchestra will premiere with soloist Xuefei Yang and the University of Nottingham Philharmonia on the 24th of February 2024. Commissioned by Lakeside Arts, the concerto will be performed by Xuefei Yang and conducted by Prof. Jonathan Tilbrook in Nottingham’s Albert Hall. Ahead of the concert, Impact’s Alex Paszkowicz had the pleasure of speaking to the composer to gain insight into her creative approach to the work.


Taken from Dr Chen’s programme notes, the inspiration for the piece centres around a popular Cantonese children’s song, Bright Moonlight, reminiscent of the composer’s hometown of Guangzhou, China. First scored for the solo guitar, this song develops throughout the piece with dialogue between the Guitar and orchestra, sometimes written in a lyrical or virtuosic style to express her nostalgia.

I began my questioning by asking Dr Chen about her music taste. The composer prefers various new and old classical music and non-Western styles. Despite enjoying a range of genres, Dr Chen avoids listening to music while she works.

‘I don’t listen to other music while composing my music, in order to concentrate on the project with non-stop working until it’s get done’.

The composer then went on to explain her creative approach to composition. Starting with sparks of inspiration, she begins thinking about instrumentation and textures she may use in the piece. She believes that ‘imaginations with a strong image in musical language is very important’, finding that writing down adjectives helps guide her musical material and overall structure as her writing develops.

Dr Chen’s composition includes a piccolo and harp which are interchangeable with a bamboo flute and Zheng (Chinese Zither). These Chinese influences convey nostalgia for her hometown and connect the Western and Eastern cultures she has experienced, living in both.

I became curious about the difficulties of fusing Western and traditional Chinese music. ‘One can’t fuse different styles into an organic whole until you have done deep research on the languages and combine them together as a natural hybrid’. She explains that a composer must ‘dig into the culture behind the technique and style in the surface’ to accurately represent a style different from their own.

To help balance the solo Guitar with the orchestra, Dr Chen asked the soloist, Xuefei Yang, whether she would use a microphone during the concert. The use of a microphone enabled the composer to write passages for the guitar over thin orchestral textures contrasted with a ‘cadenza to present the virtuoso development of the initial pitch materials’.

Lastly, I asked Dr Chen if she had any advice for students interested in pursuing composition. She happily obliged, instructing students to learn about the nature and society surrounding them, turning their study into inspiration for a ‘rich sonic imagination’.

Tickets for the premier of Dr Chen’s, Dreaming of My Hometown, at Nottingham’s Albert Hall are available on the Lakeside Arts website: https://www.lakesidearts.org.uk/music/event/5926/xuefei-yang-university-philharmonia.html


Alexander Paszkowicz

Featured image courtesy of Manuel Nägeli on Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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