Shuo Shu Ren or The Storyteller, was inspired by my childhood memories of listening to folk stories. Folklore and the oral tradition were very much a part of people’s lives before television invaded China in the 1980s. In the period in which I grew up, there were regular power cuts in the evening, and neighbours always came together to share stories in the dark. The stories never seemed to run out. We visited the cha guans (tea-house) where tea was served and fantastic tales would be spun by expert story-tellers. Often I would run home from school to catch the late afternoon broadcast of a particular story-teller’s account of some epic tale, usually based on a classical novel in a historical setting. This was before my family owned a television set, and the memories of these joyful moments are as vivid now as 25 years ago. My interest in storytelling never subsided. From a composer’s perspective, the theatrical characteristics of Chinese story-telling, which range from shouting and vocalizing to intense facial expressions and body movements, are extremely seductive and lead naturally to almost operatic ideas. I have always thought of myself as a story-teller of sorts, but in place of words I use music. In Shuo Shu Ren, the communal stories that a story-teller shares, are interwoven with the personal narratives of the individual. Blurring the boundaries between myth and reality, this work exists within the space of a “third reality”. In the epilogue to the piece, as the stories come to a close, what remains is the theme of the story-teller who sighs in desolation while fragments of stories flash by, ephemeral as light.
Shuo Shu Ren was commissioned by the Zurich-based Ensemble Pyramide who gave its first performance in January 2002. I dedicate this work to my dear friend, the flautist Markus Bronnimann, without whom this work would never have come into being.