Born in Hong Kong, Canadian composer Alice Ping Yee Ho reflects on the rich cultural history of her heritage in her new work Silk Road Fantasy, commissioned by the HPO. The piece has its world premiere October 19 at Mozart & Mendelssohn at FirstOntario Concert Hall.

Silk Road Fantasy reflects on the history of the ancient trade route that connected the East and West of Eurasia and opened a door to cross-cultural trade and communication. The composition is written in three linked movements: On A Nomadic Plain, The Trade, and The Great Crossing.

“Music travels through time and geography from the dawn of the Nomadic Empires to the imaginary trade adventures connecting China with the Middle East and Europe, dramatizing human experiences and the exchange of languages and cultures,” Ho said of the piece.

Ho’s piece celebrates the human spirit through the history of exploration and cross-cultural connections. The composition keeps the musicians on stage busy with rhythmically challenging tutti sections for the strings as well as showcasing timpani and percussion.

Ho has had a dynamic career in the Canadian orchestral scene. After completing her masters’ at the University of Toronto, she received her big break when she was awarded two prizes at the Winnipeg Symphony Canadian Composers’ Competition in the mid-1990s. She has since had the opportunity to cross artistic boundaries while collaborating with opera, dance and theatre organizations. She cites composers Bach, Ravel and Ann Southam amongst her favouites while also drawing inspiration from popular artists David Bowie and Yoko Ono.

When it comes to composing, Ho says finding a subject that appeals to her can be the most challenging aspect. She deep dives into topics with research and sketching to fully understand the story she is going to tell.

During her career, Ho has been a strong advocate for contemporary music, which can be a divisive topic amongst audiences and musicians alike.

“I think the attitude of players towards contemporary music is greatly affected by the leadership and vision of the artistic director. It is always not easy to be pushed out of one’s comfort zone to deal with the unfamiliar. However, the audience is always more intelligent than we think. I believe any artist and musician has the tools and responsibility to introduce new works that will inspire and reflect on our society, and at the same time offer challenges and excitement to the audience,” Ho said on the subject.

If contemporary orchestral music seems foreign to you, Ho recommends listening to Jennifer Hidgon’s City Shape, Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Metacosmos, John Weinzweig’s Divertimento No. 9 and Murray Schaefer’s Dream Rainbow Dream Thunder.

Silk Road Fantasy opens our October 19 concert, Mozart & Mendelssohn. Alice’s work Witch on Thin Ice, inspired by the life of Yoko Ono and written for leading Canadian percussionist Beverley Johnson, premieres at the Aki Studio Theatre in February 2020.

Photo by Bo Huang