Fisherman of the Fragrant Harbor

for Alto Saxophone and Piano

  • Genre
  • Commissioned by/written for
    Kenneth Tse
  • Year completed
  • Year revised
  • Timing
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    known performances
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Fisherman of the Fragrant Harbor was composed in the space of a few hours in a single composition session on October 22, 2007, and slightly revised on February 12, 2008. It was composed intended to be a significant contrast to the other works that I had written for Kenneth Tse, all of which were virtuosic showpieces for the saxophone. The present work, then, is simplicity itself, conceived to be a work of direct appeal for both performer and listener. The title derives in part from the birthplace of the dedicatee, Hong Kong, which in English can be translated as "fragrant harbor." The "fisherman" part of the title came from a Japanese website that had an article about Tse that I wanted to read. Using the Google translation device, I translated the article into English, but noted with considerable amusement that every time that Tse's name was mentioned, it was translated as "fisherman." Several years earlier, Tse had recorded a CD (Enharmonic ENCD00-014) in memory of his mother, Ivy Tse, who died of cancer in 1999 at the age of 48. My wife's mother also died of cancer at a similar age, and so I was inspired to write this work in memory of Tse's mother who, though not a musician herself, was quite instrumental in fostering her son's musical interests and gifts, to the point of even arranging a meeting between her son and his future teacher, Eugene Rousseau, who had come to Hong Kong to give a master class. Had it not been for Ivy Tse's efforts, it is safe to assume that Tse and I would never have met, and my numerous works for the saxophone for Tse and others may never have been begun. The listener will note the use of the pentatonic scale at the beginning of the work, and a return to it in several places, including the ending. Its use suggests the place where Tse and his mother grew up, but the tonality quickly shifts into harmonic areas other than pentatonicism. At the conclusion of the work, the upper strings of the piano are heard in a glissando produced by a credit card inside the piano, meant to be evocative of the sound of the Chinese guzheng.

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