“The magic of the work stems from Chen’s ability to infuse dissonance with an ethereal quality. “Classical Voice America
Columba is a piece for solo piano and shadow box commissioned by the Fromm Foundation for pianist Alex Peh. The piece is inspired by the many three-dimensional collage boxes made by American artist Joseph Cornell, who drew together many odd and unlikely objects into miniature surreal worlds. As a composer/performer who is naturally drawn to found objects re-appropriated as instruments, I have felt a simpatico with Cornell’s work for a very long time. Many of his shadow boxes have a rich aviary theme and use images of old constellation maps. These enigmatic pieces juxtapose the “imaginary” and “factual” with such balance and grace, I have lost myself in them countless times.

There are quite a number of landmark piano pieces by composers drawing from aviary life and songs. In many ways this piece is a quiet homage to some of the greats like Debussy, Messiaen and Crumb.

In the spirit of Cornell’s assemblages, the preparations used are given to the pianist in a collage box that include magnets, a bird whistle, a clock gong and a miniature speaker. The speaker should either be kept inside of the box with the lid open or placed inside of the piano. The field recording consists of birds singing and chirping, so that it gives the illusion that there are birds either inside the box or inside the piano. There are two shadow boxes being made for the piece. One could either choose to rent one of them from the composer or perform it with the objects without the shadow box.

Special thanks to the Fromm Music Foundation for commissioning the work, Alex Peh for performing its premiere and to SUNY New Paltz Davenport Residency for hosting its development and performance.