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beyond the gate of supreme harmony

for orchestra / 2013/15

Perceiving China’s First Hall


The Forbidden City, built in 1406 to 1420, was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the centre of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.


Beyond the Gate of Supreme Harmony is both my dedication to the Forbidden City of China and a personal account of my visit to it in summer 2013. The Gate of Supreme Harmony is the second major gate encountered when entering the Forbidden City. Beyond this gate is the Hall of Supreme Harmony- China’s grandest temple architecture in scale and extravagance. The most overwhelming component of my tour was the very moment of seeing the Hall of Supreme Harmony when coming through the Gate of Supreme Harmony. Immediately beyond the gate is a grand square where the hall sits at the very end. Every emperor of China during the past five centuries would accede to the throne in the Hall of Supreme Harmony on the first dawn of his reign, before which the entire imperial court would kneel down for the new “son of heaven” three times, koutou-ing nine times. Physically being within this legendary space was such an extraordinary experience that a theme appeared in my mind immediately, around which this composition was later to be developed and completed.


The music follows my path of approaching “China’s First Hall” in several sections:


- 0'00" The mysterious Meridian Gate with repressive hall walls. Countless chancellors were beheaded here under these walls.


- 1’32’’ Walking through the Gate of Supreme Harmony with rising excitement and anticipation


- 2’38’’ Upon seeing the magnificent hall and square


- 3’23’’ Approaching the hall while pondering its history


- 3’46’’ Walking up to the hall on stone steps sculpted with dragons, depicted by an embellished counter melody in the cellos, contrabassoon and vibraphone


- 4’30’’ Facing the extravagant ornamentation of the hall, such as its densely patterned dou-gong supporting the roof, dipicted by a crisp and refreshing ostinato in the high registers played by the flute, oboe and vibraphone


- 6’05’’ The last glance. I could not help but wonder how many stories and secrets- some passed on as legends while some forever lost in the black hole of history- had the hall witnessed in five centuries of silence at the rises and falls of the last Chinese empires.


Zi-Xiao He, January 2014


Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra,

Ronald Royer, direction


Recorded live in Toronto, 26 September, 2015

Copyright © Zi-Xiao He 2015

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