Ning Yu: Of Being


Pianist Ning Yu (Yarn/Wire, counter)induction) releases "Of Being," a compilation of three pathbreaking works by composers Wang Lu, Misato Mochizuki, and Emily Praetorius. Combining traditional virtuosity with a mastery over contemporary keyboard performance practice and extended technique, Ning Yu is an ambassador for significant piano repertoire that exists at the forefront of current aesthetic trends.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 48:50

Rates of Extinction

Wang Lu

Of Being

Emily Praetorius

Pianist Ning Yu (Yarn/Wire, counter)induction) releases her debut recording, “Of Being,” featuring the premiere of works by Wang Lu, Misato Mochizuki, and Emily Praetorius that together form a conceptually powerful collection. With various embedded themes from humanity’s impact on the natural world to the deceptive nature of temporality, the three works on this recording celebrate the process of translating an idea into a musical manifestation.

Wang Lu’s Rates of Extinction is both a lament for mortally endangered species and a celebration of pianistic virtuosity. The opening movement begins with a repeated pulse, slowly layering different polyrhythmic material and characteristic motives upon it, “to represent the heart rates of different animals that went extinct around 2015.” Messiaen-like bird calls interrupt the ominously insistent D5 that started the piece. Movement two begins more brilliantly, with a rapid repeated note figure in the highest register of the instrument. A pleading two-note motive emerges below as an expressive counterpart to the explosive bursts. Movement three reprises the “heartbeat” approach of movement one, with a primary pitch one step lower on C, tolling low bass notes and bell-like pitches in the high register. The fourth movement introduces the work’s most extroverted music, again opening with insistent, Morse-code like repeated figures, around which dart angular, stabbing chords and fleet passagework. Wang Lu’s ecosystem of sound takes a brief, introspective pause before the movement closes with a vigorous intensification of the previous material. The final movement of Rates of Extinction is more subdued, as sustained ethereal harmonies invite us to contemplate a future robbed of the vibrancy of species diversity.

Misato Mochizuki’s Moebius-Ring is a musical manifestation of the mathematical paradox with the same name. Mochizuki writes, “we pass successively from the front to the back of the ring while remaining on the same side of the ribbon.” The work is arranged into a series of variations, also based on repetitive pulsations. The stark processional opening leads through staggered off-kilter entrances, sequential chords, fast repeated notes in the high register, and percolating alternating textures marked by spiky accents. In each case, Mochizuki establishes a pattern and gradually deconstructs it, ultimately leading back to the repetitive pulsations that represent the inescapable starting point of the ribbon. After the piece is deconstructed down to one repeated note, Mochizuki begins to build the texture back up, first tentatively with harp-like ascending arpeggios, and then with a jaunty section featuring many of the motivic ideas from earlier in the work.

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Emily Praetorius’ four movement title work “navigates a space between suspended time and flowing time.” The minimal musical material is designed to invite the listener to focus on subtleties like decay and intervallic relationships. By weaving phrases across large registral leaps and integrating different articulations like muted pitches and harmonics, Praetorius creates a delicate three-dimensional soundworld. Brief scalar flourishes and moments of increased density accelerate the perception of musical time, as the balance between suspension and flow shifts through the piece. The second movement opens in a more timbrally experimental space, with all of the pitches of an ascending scale sustained with the pedal, followed by a percussive hit on the body of the instrument and a scrape on the strings inside the piano. Silence frames these hybrid gestures as Praetorius introduces subtle variations, expanding the sense of the temporal canvas framing the music. We hear the material within a more rhythmically regular context towards the end of the movement, before several haunting string scrapes highlight otherworldly overtones to bring it to its close. The short third movement opens with floating descending passages reminiscent of wind chimes. As the music enters lower registers, it becomes louder and more impassioned, only receding in intensity once it turns and ascends back to where it started. The final movement hearkens back to Wang Lu’s first movement, opening with repeated muted notes, alternating in different tempi and registers. Over the course of the movement, Praetorius integrates rolled chords, harmonics, and glissandi articulated with a slide on the string. As with previous movements, rhythmic regularity and density of material move the texture towards a peak, but the movement remains ritualistic and meditative.

Ning Yu’s performances throughout are virtuosic and poetic. Taken together, the three works share striking similarities despite being generated from divergent sources of inspiration. “Of Being” is a poignant recording that documents significant new repertoire for piano that speaks to probing themes through sound.

– Dan Lippel

  • Producers: Ning Yu, Ryan Streber, Emily Praetorius
  • Engineer: Ryan Streber
  • Recording location: Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, NY
  • Recording dates: December 21, 2018; May 5, 2019; July 31, 2019
  • Editing assistant: Edwin Huet
  • Piano Technician: Dan Jessie
  • Album design by Mark Reigelman

Ning Yu

Praised for her, “taut and impassioned performance” by the New York Times, pianist Ning Yu performs with vigor and dedication for traditional and repertoire of the 20th and 21st century on stages across the United States, Europe and Asia. Ning brings virtuosity and adventurous spirit to a wide range of music, both in solo performances and in collaborations with some of today’s most distinguished creative artists.

Working at the forefront of the current creative music scene in the US, Ning has given dozens of world premieres by esteemed composers such as Tristan Murail, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, David Lang, Michael Gordon, Enno Poppe, and collaborated with artists from different genres such as Sufjan Stevens, Glenn Kotche, Pete Swanson, and Bryce Dessner. She has performed with ensembles such as Bang on A Can All-Stars, ICE, Talea Ensemble, Signal Ensemble, counter)induction, and she is a member of the highly regarded piano/percussion quartet Yarn/Wire.

Ning appears in concert halls, international festivals, universities, and other non-traditional performance spaces. These venues include Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Museum of Modern Art , Miller Theater, Guggenheim Museum, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles, Library of Congress, Issue Project Room, Pioneer Works, Contempo Concert Series at University of Chicago, the Kennedy Center, Kimmel Center, Köln Philharmonie in Germany, Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam, Kwe- Tsing Theater in Hong Kong, Spoleto Festival, Rainy Day Festival in Luxembourg, Ultima Festival in Norway, Transit Festival in Belgium, Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, Singapore International Arts Festival, Princeton University, Stanford University, Columbia University, Yale University, Brown University, and Eastman School of Music.

In theater, Ning performed with Mabou Mines’ Dollhouse — a critically acclaimed production directed by Lee Breuer. She can be seen in the production’s feature-film version, produced by ARTE France. Ning has also collaborated with director Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project on the development of the Tony Award–nominated play 33 Variations.

Ning is the winner of the Boucourechliev Prize at the Ninth International Concours de Orléans in France — a competition devoted to piano repertoire from 1900 to today. Together with other members of Yarn/Wire, the first-prize winner of Open Category of the International M-Prize Chamber Music Competition, and the prestigious “40 under 40 award” of the Stony Brook University for outstanding alumni.

Ning is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music (B.M. And M.M.A) and Stony Brook University (D.M.A.). She is assistant professor of piano and chamber music at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Ning currently resides in New York City with her husband and daughter. She is a Yamaha Artist.

Wang Lu

Composer and pianist Wang Lu (born 1982, Xi’an, China) writes music that reflects a very natural identification with influences from traditional Chinese music, urban environmental sounds, linguistic intonation and contours, and freely improvised traditions, through the prism of contemporary instrumental techniques and new sonic possibilities. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Music at Brown University, after receiving her doctoral degree in composition at Columbia University and graduating from the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music. Wang Lu’s works have been performed internationally, by ensembles including the Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Alarm Will Sound, Minnesota Orchestra, American Composers Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lille, Holland Symfonia, Shanghai National Chinese Orchestra, Taipei Chinese Orchestra, Musiques Nouvelles, Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, International Contemporary Ensemble, Third Sound, Curious Chamber Players, Ensemble Pamplemousse, Argento, and Momenta Quartet, among others. Her most recent works have been written for the Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players, violinists Miranda Cuckson and Jennifer Koh, and pianist Joel Fan. Wang Lu received the Berlin Prize in Music Composition (Spring 2019 residency) and was a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow. She won the first prize at Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne’s Young Composers Forum in 2010 and shared the Tactus International Young Composers Orchestra Forum Award in 2008. She was selected for a Tremplin commission by IRCAM/Ensemble Intercontemporain in 2010 and the International Composition Seminar with the Ensemble Modern in 2012, and has also received two ASCAP Morton Gould awards. Her music was programmed on festivals such as the 2014 New York Philharmonic Biennial, MATA Festival, Cresc. Biennale in Frankfurt, Gaudeamus Music Week, Tanglewood, Cabrillo Music Festival, Beijing Modern, Pacific and Takefu festivals in Japan, Mostly Mozart, Aspekte Festival in Salzburg, Mizzou International Composers Festival, and the Havana New Music Festival. She has also been a resident at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation. Collaborations have included an installation at Brown University’s Cohen Gallery with artist Polly Apfelbaum and an evening of poetry and music with Ocean Vuong.

Misato Mochizuki

Born in 1969 in Tokyo, Misato Mochizuki is amongst those composers who are equally active in Europe, North America and in Japan. After receiving a Masters degree in composition at the National University of Fine Arts and Music in Tokyo, she was awarded first prize for composition at the Conservatoire National Supérieur in Paris in 1995, and then integrated the "Composition and Computer Music" program at IRCAM (1996-1997).

In her very own combination of Occidental tradition and the Asiatic sense of breathing, Misato Mochizuki's style of writing developed exciting rhythms and unusual sounds of great formal and stylistic freedom. Her catalogue of works (published by Breitkopf & Härtel) consists of about 60 works today, including 16 symphonic compositions and 15 pieces for ensemble. Her works, which have been performed at international festivals such as the Salzburg Festival, the Biennale di Venezia, Lincoln Centre Festival, Music days in Donaueschingen, Berlin, Witten, Cologne, Lyon, Zurich, Toronto and so on, have received numerous awards; the audience prize at the Festival Ars Musica in Brussels for Chimera in 2002, the Japanese State Prize for the greatest young artistic talent in 2003, the Otaka Prize for the best symphonic world premiere in Japan in 2005 (for Cloud nine), the Grand Prize of the Tribune internationale des compositeurs in 2008 (for L'heure bleue), and the Heidelberg Women Artists' Prize in 2010. Her most outstanding productions include the orchestral portrait concert at Suntory Hall in Tokyo (2007 and 2019), the cinema concert at the Louvre with the music to the silent film Le fil blanc de la cascade by Kenji Mizoguchi (2007) and the portrait concerts at the Festival d'Automne in Paris, Muziekgebouw aan't IJ in Amsterdam (2010) or at Miller Theatre in New York (Columbia University, 2017).

Between 2011 and 2013 Misato Mochizuki was composer-in-residence at the Festival international de musique de Besançon and did lots of workshops and conferences as well as jury of the renowned young conductors' competition, for which she wrote a symphonic piece (Musubi II) for finalists.

Since 2007 she has been professor of artistic disciplines at the Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo, and has been invited to give composition courses in Darmstadt, in Royaumont, in Takefu, at the Amsterdam Conservatory, Columbia University and so on. Within the framework of her activities, she continually reflects on the role of the composer in today's society and on the necessity to open oneself to it. In addition, Misato Mochizuki writes about music and culture in her own column every three months for the Yomiuri Shimbun (2008-2015), every week for the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (January to June 2018), most widely read daily newspapers in Japan. In November 2019, some of these writings were published as a book ("The composer's reflection on music and daily life", in Japanese, Kairyusha).

Emily Praetorius

Emily Praetorius is from Ojai, CA and is currently residing in New York City.

She has studied at Columbia University, Manhattan School of Music, and University of Redlands.



Midwest Record

It’s minimalist but it’s not pots and pans music. Contemporary classical pianist Yu explores sound and white space, checking out the relationship between both, on some new works that are tailor made for eggheads. Full of deep meaning for sonic seekers, this comes close to being the next generation of space rock. Wild trips to out there are here a plenty here.

— Chris Spector, 5.01.2020


The Art Music Lounge

Chinese pianist Ning Yu gives us here three modern works by relatively unknown composers, those being Wang Lu, Misato Mochizuki and Emily Praetorius. This is music as much involved with pacing and space as it is of edgy passages, though of course the edginess is there, too.

Rates of Extinction is a five-part suite dedicated to endangered species, some of which are threatened by human advancement on their environment. The first three pieces are bleak and forlorn, leaning towards minor modes although no key is firmly established. In the fourth piece, the left hand plays a series of repeated, rhythmic Cs, eventually moving into almost modern-jazz-like development with a great deal of syncopation and very imaginative right-hand flurries before quieting down around 1:56 for some very spaced-out, isolated notes, then moving back into the fast, busy passages once again. The music becomes very complex, almost menacing, towards the end of this segment, returning to spaciness for part five, although a lyrical theme in B begins to coalesce.

Moebius-Ring begins with a bang—literally, a bass bang on the keyboard. This is a piece built around repeated pulsations, which the piano “tries to escape” but fails as the tempo tightens and relaxes in turn. At certain moments, the music becomes much faster and a discernible rhythm propels the music. I wasn’t crazy about the repetitive nature of some of the music, however; for me, it was more gimmicky than emotionally moving.

According to the composer, Of Being “navigates a space between suspended time and flowing time. The material in each movement is fairly minimal and exposed so as to frame sounds and gestures into discrete moments.” The extreme slowness of the pulse or pacing in the beginning puts the listener into a questioning mood. Where is this going, and how will it get there? Little by little, the music develops at its own pace. Once in a while, an unexpected keyboard run is tossed in, perhaps humorously for effect, and every so often certain notes tend to bump into one another, creating a temporary feeling of rhythmic movement. In Part II, Yu plays the inside strings of his piano and occasionally thumps the boards. For me, although some of this was interesting, it again seemed a bit gimmicky.

Nonetheless, this is an interesting album, worth hearing at least once. You may get even more out of it than I did.

— Lynn Bayley, 5.07.2020


Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

In these days we live through it is sometimes natural to reflect on how things have come to be. During such times the music we hear can be quite fitting if it is thoughtful and introspective. I've found that to be much the case on a new album, Of Being (New Focus FCR242) by pianist Ning Yu. It is her very first solo album and features the world premier recordings of three solo works.

Each of those works explores the sonorities, the harnessing of substantial virtuoso abilities to a music at hand and the extended technical possibilities of new piano music the way it has opened up in the past 100 years. The works are ripe with expressive potential, well realized by Ning Yu. Each of the pieces seeks to make a conceptual element come alive through evolved, Abstract Modern expression.

The opening composition is Rates of Extinction in five relatively short movements by Wang Lu. As the program notes tell us it is "both a lament for mortally endangered species and a celebration of pianistic virtuosity." There is much going on throughout.

Misato Mochizuki's single-movement Moebius-Ring is a musical realization of a mathematical paradox identified by the title. A set of variations centers around pulsations that repeat, gradually deconstructs down to one note and then rebuilds again.

The third and final work, Of Being by Emily Praetorious seeks to examine the space between time in suspension and time flowing. The music uncovers subtleties in decay, interval-to-interval relationships, the continuous articulation of lines across a wide-set of registers and varied attacks including dampened pitches, harmonics, bursts of pianism and a movement through increasingly high density soundings. It all gives us a heightened perception of time set into motion.

In sum we are treated to a highly sophisticated set of piano works played with emotional commitment and thoughtful precision. It is music difficult to play but not so difficult to explore with a proper attitude and a bit of patience.

Ning Yu is a wonder of contemporary pianism, taking on each of the three works with an ideal sense of focus and aesthetic expression. The works themselves in turn give to us a proverbial Zen rock garden of sound and sensibility exhilarating to hear. Highly recommended.

— Grego Edwards, 5.11.2020

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