The combination of the two instruments, sheng and accordion, is intriguing due to the ironical discrepancies and similarities of this pair. Their timbres may appear to be quite homogeneous but they have completely different mechanisms of sonic production and can also project distinctive soundworlds that are very far apart.
The curious relationship made me think of two Manzai dancers in a Korean/Japanese traditional double act, whom I imagined to look very much alike but possess personalities and characteristics at opposite ends of the spectrum. I decided to create an ‘imaginary music theatre’ which is full of humour, irony and paradox, led by two Manzai dancers, the sheng and the accordion.
Double Act, scored for sheng, accordion and orchestra, is divided into two parts. The first part consists of three segueing movements which were inspired by Basho’s famous Haiku about Manzai dancers.
The mountain village, Manzai dancers are late.
In the first part, the sheng and the accordion represent the dancers. In the middle of their exhausting journey to the mountain village, they fall asleep accompanied by the delicate sounds of spring in the mountains (the first movement). They dream of their Manzai act (the second movement) and, when they wake up, they realise that they are seriously late for their next show and start to run toward the village (the third movement).
They finally reach the village and the show, based on Li Bai’s legendary poem ‘Drinking Alone with the Moon’, begins. The second part (the fourth movement) of the piece depicts this Manzai act itself.
From a pot of wine among the flowers
I drank alone. There was no one with me —
Till, raising my cup, I asked the bright moon
To bring me my shadow and make us three.
Alas, the moon was unable to drink
And my shadow tagged me vacantly;
But still for a while I had these friends
To cheer me through the end of spring. …
I sang. The moon encouraged me.
I danced. My shadow tumbled after.
As long as I knew, we were boon companions.
And then I was drunk, and we lost one another.
… Shall goodwill ever be secure?
I watched the long road of the River of Stars.
Li Bai, translated by Witter Bynner
The music starts in a nocturnal, meditative atmosphere and, as in the narrative of the poem, the poet - the sheng - gradually gets drunk and starts to dance. His shadow - the accordion - follows him in a mirror-like canon and imitates him. In the climax, the poet, his shadow, and the moon - the orchestra - sing and dance together. However, they already know they are destined to part. They vow to meet again in the hereafter and go their separate ways. The poet once again is alone.
Donghoon Shin, 2022
“…vividly theatrical, like a kind of dialogue. Donghoon Shin's composition was inspired by Manzai, the Japanese equivalent of stand-up comedy: irony and humour characterised the work. Passages of free tonality contrasted with melodic, dance-like elements. Sometimes light and cheerful, at other times dark and mysterious, the musicians crossed between the continents and musical epochs. The audience was enraptured…”
Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung