Alice Ping Yee Ho is a Canadian composer by way of Hong Kong, and Centrediscs' Ming is the first full-length disc devoted entirely to her works. As the program is devoted to her percussion music, expertly performed by eminent Canadian percussionist Beverley Johnston with help from the University of Toronto Percussion Ensemble and the Penderecki String Quartet, one might get the mistaken impression that Ho is a "percussion composer." Ho is quite prolific and scores works for a wide variety of instrumental mediums including the orchestra, chamber compositions, piano and electronic pieces, and music for theater and film. However, percussion also plays an important role in her other music; she has written a concerto for marimba, another for percussion ensemble and orchestra, and percussion instruments turn up in her chamber music, as well.
Ho has stated that, "My music has a rich array of dynamic forces, rhythmic energy and harmonic accessibility;" that's not leaving much for her critics to further elucidate, but every word of this elevator speech is true. Ho's music has a strong affinity for the dramatic, and though she has -- prior to this release -- only scored one film, the listener can imagine pieces such as "Wind" from Evolving Elements for marimba and string quartet (2005) as perfect for setting an eerie, menacing, and mysterious scene from a motion picture; the movement almost makes you look over your shoulder. She also has a very strong grounding in how instruments work; one wouldn't think a string quartet supporting a marimba soloist would make much sense in terms of establishing a blend between them, but it actually works quite well, so well, in fact, that even though Evolving Elements is the longest piece on the disc, it could stand to be yet longer. Both the title work Ming (1999) and Kami (2006) can be related in a superficial sense to traditional Chinese theater, yet Ming possesses additional, subjective qualities of ceremony and Kami is just a good old-fashioned romp of percussion, spinning out its rhythmic material coherently and constantly. Forest Rain (1991) perhaps hearkens back the most of these four works to more typically academic concepts of organization and pitch choices than the others, but one never gets the impression that Ho is an "academic composer"; far from it. In its almost story-like, unfolding structure, Ho's Ming is reminiscent of one of the longer, purely instrumental pieces of Harry Partch, and the joyous enthusiasm of Kami nearly calls to mind Lou Harrison, both composers who fall well outside the academic mainstream.
Centrediscs' recording was made at Maureen Forrester Recital Hall at Wilfred Laurier University and the sound is good, though it's a little quiet in some spots. Add Ho's name to a roster of composers who are beating their own self-wrought and stubborn path out of the 20th century into something distinctly individual and accomplished in its own right.