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For pianist Ning Yu, clearly tradition is a wonderful reality; but not understanding that the inner dynamic of tradition is always to innovate would be a prison. It’s certainly what the lively works by Wang Lu, Misato Mochizuki and Emily Praetorius in Of Being seem to tell us. This is chiselled music; uniquely beautiful, but also defiantly provocative. It is a body of music carved from the bedrock of the Western music tradition and yet it forces the listener to reconsider what that tradition is.
In doing so, Yu actively throws overboard melodic, structural and harmonic hooks that have become expressively blunted through overuse. Then she rebuilds the architecture of the music from what might – or mightn’t – be left. Sound and silence are treated with equal respect, and innovation is always paramount. This means that Yu might also reach outside the keyboard and inside the instrument to create the purest melodies and harmonies as she manipulates the strings – stretched taut across the cast-iron plate, which she often strums delicately or strikes percussively.
Her pedalling adds sudden moments of drama to the music as if opening a window and letting filtered light into the room full of sound, by unexpected use of the sostenuto followed by the unacorda; all of which may be abruptly shut down expressly with the damper. In the end the music seems to unfurl as if in streaming ribbons suspended interminably in time.