La’i is a form of Tibetan love songs. It is most popular in eastern Tibet where I lived for seven years in my teens. I watched men and women approach each other singing La’i while herding, working in the fields or, especially, in festival settings. If things went well, they would exchange memorabilia and set a new date to meet again. The character of the music is lyrical, slow in a free tempo with quick moving throaty grace-notes decorating an overall simple melody. The decoration forms a special relation to the melody, a unique feature of La’i.
When I first heard the singing, I was struck by the beauty and overtly Romantic feeling, as well as by the natural unruly wild emotion the music generated. This work is loosely based on the impression of the La’i singing.
La’i for Orchestra without Strings is co-commissioned by the Philharmonisches Orchester Dortmund for the orchestra’s centennial celebration, and University of Michigan Symphony Band. It is scored for 2 piccolos, 1 flute, 2 oboes, 1 English horn, clarinet I and III in Bb (doubles bass clarinet), Eb clarinet, 2 bassoons, 1 contra-bassoon; 4 French horns in F, 3 trumpets in C, 2 tenor trombones, 1 bass trombone, 1 tuba; timpani (4), 4 percussionists playing xylophone, triangle, large tam-tam (60”), wind-gong, 4 cowbells, 2 bass drums-high and low; harp, and strings.
The work is approximately six minutes in length.
The world premiere took place on January 16, 2005 by the Philharmonisches Orchester Dortmund, conducted by Arthur Fagen. The US premiere took place on Feb. 25, 2005 by the University of Michigan Symphony Band at Carnegie Hall in New York City, conducted by Michael Haithcock.