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The Year of the Cello

By Marjorie Chan & Njo Kong Kie

Co-produced by Theatre Passe Muraille and Music Picnic

A lament for loves lost, and a Hong Kong that once was.

52 minutes

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We recommend listening to this audio-only performance with high quality headphones, in a quiet place, or maybe even by the water.

Content Warnings:  Implications of abuse and suicide, descriptions of disease.

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About The Show

Wen and her friend Li-An are forever changed by their encounter with the Cellist, whose music unlocks all that was left unspoken. Co-created by Marjorie Chan and Njo Kong Kie, The Year of the Cello is told poetically, alongside live cello music culminating in a lament for loves lost, and a Hong Kong that once was.

Adapted from the world premiere stage production, this audio work has been created with binaural sound to give a surround listening experience of the play. Wen and her friend Li-An are forever changed by their encounter with the Cellist, whose music unlocks all that was left unspoken. Co-created by Marjorie Chan and Njo Kong Kie, The Year of the Cello is told poetically, alongside cello music culminating in a lament for loves lost, and a Hong Kong that once was.

Prelude, Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor — Composed by J.S. Bach, for unaccompanied cello, 1717 – 1723
Prelude, Cello Suite No. 1 in G major — Composed by J.S. Bach, for unaccompanied cello, 1717 – 1723
Sarabande, Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor — Composed by J.S. Bach, for unaccompanied cello, 1717 – 1723

Rain — Composed by Njo Kong Kie for solo cello, 2015 – 2022
The Year of the Cello — Composed by Njo Kong Kie for solo cello, 2015 – 2022

Welcome to the year of the cello. 

This is the first collaboration between composer/pianist Njo Kong Kie, and playwright/librettist Marjorie Chan. While they share a discipline of creating for opera, for The Year of the Cello, they have set out to create in a new way. A play with cello. 

One of the enduring inspirations for this piece is the quote, “Music is love in search of a word.” by poet Sidney Lanier. And this is where we find the two main characters, Wen, and The Cellist, who have never found the way to express the inexpressible, their love for Li-An

The Year of the Cello is set in a dream-like place of stasis where Wen, and The Cellist have to work through their past, their connection and reconcile their relationship. It is not until the music feeds and informs the conversation that the healing can begin. 

We have always envisioned the piece to be sound-led and have been so pleased to work with consultants Vivian Chong and Jess Watkin in creating this audio production. 

Like the characters in the play, the creators too were inspired by the sound of cello, and solo cello, in particular. It is often said that the cello most approximates the human voice. In this work we feature compositions of Kong Kie, but also those of J.S. Bach, the most iconic of composers for solo cello. 

In fact, we used the Pablo Casals original gramophone recording of the Prelude from Suite 5 at the beginning of the play! Other historical recordings used include excerpts of the then contemporary Cantonese opera tune “Lotus Picking Song” recorded by Cho Chuk Wen and the early Chinese pop song “Tao Hua Jiang” (Peach Blossom River) by Li Jin Hui, recorded by Wang Ren Mei and Li Li Li.  

Thank you for listening. 
Marjorie Chan & Njo Kong Kie (Co-creators) 

In person performance – World Premiere: Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto, October 15–19, 2022

The Cultch Online: October 2022 – February 2023

“Njo Kong Kie’s compositions are surprising, erratic and visceral, in stark contrast to the sweeping perpetual motion of Bach.” — Intermission Magazine

“Rong Fu’s delivery is steady and relentless, as if the crucial moments must be addressed before they too are lost. There is a dreamy, feverish quality to the monologue.” — Istvan Reviews

The original play was commissioned by Diaspora Dialogues under the title “The Birthday Cadenza”. The creators wish to thank the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for funding various stages of development. Additionally, this work has benefitted from workshops from the Banff Centre for the Arts (Playwrights Lab), Factory Theatre (WIRED), and Cahoots Theatre (Hot House).

canada council for the arts logo
Metcalf Foundation logo
Toronto Arts Council Logo
Ontario Trillium Foundation logo
TD Ready Commitment logo
Hal Jackman Foundation logo
wuchien michael than foundation logo

Theatre Passe Muraille

Theatre Passe Muraille means Theatre Beyond Walls. Founded in 1968, TPM is Canada’s original alternative theatre company, currently developing and producing new Canadian plays. TPM is striving to articulate a distinctly Canadian voice that reflects the complexity of our intercultural society. TPM believes there should be a more diverse representation of artists, audience members, and stories in our theatre. TPM aspires to be a leader locally, nationally and internationally in establishing, promoting and embracing collaborative and inclusive theatre practices. We do this so that we can support and ignite the voices of unique artists, communities and audiences.

Land Acknowledgement

Theatre Passe Muraille gratefully acknowledges the original caretakers of this land, the Anishinabek, Wendat, Haudenosaunee and the Mississaugas of the Credit. We embrace collaborative and collective values as exemplified by Indigenous cultures, and we aspire to live up to those values. We are also particularly inspired by the Dish With One Spoon Treaty. This agreement binds people on this land to share peacefully with their neighbours, so that we may all have enough.

There is one dish, one spoon, and no knife. In that spirit, we honour all who came before us, our own ancestors as well as all the Indigenous caretakers, named and unnamed, recorded and unrecorded. We are grateful to have the opportunity to work, play, and create here in this community, and on this territory.

Thank you.

Music Picnic

Why Music Picnic? A picnic, whether casual or formal, is always eclectic, joyful, whimsical, romantic, intimate and tasty, maybe even meditative – as is the musical experience we strive to create.

Marjorie Chan — Co-creator, Writer & Director

Marjorie Chan is the Artistic Director of Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto since 2019, where she places access, community, innovation and collaboration at the forefront of the company’s approach. Born in Tkaronto (Toronto) to Hong Kong immigrants, she works variously as writer, director and dramaturge in opera and theatre as well as in the intersection of these forms and roles.

Her work has been seen and performed in the United States, Scotland, Hong Kong, Russia and across Canada. Her full-length works as a playwright include Lady Sunrise, The Madness of the Square, a nanking winter, and Tails From the City, as well as the libretti for the operas, Sanctuary Song, The Lesson of Da Ji, M’dea Undone, The Monkiest King, and upcoming The Nightingale of a Thousand Songs. Some of the companies Marjorie has directed for include: Gateway Theatre, Cahoots Theatre, Native Earth Performing Arts, Theatre Passe Muraille, Obsidian Theatre and Theatre du Pif (Hong Kong). Marjorie has been nominated for nine Dora Awards and is the recipient of four. She has also received the K.M. Hunter Artist’s Award in Theatre, the Entertainment World Award (Best New Work), a Harold Award, the Bra D’Or Award, as well as the George Luscombe Award for Mentorship. Other notable nominations include the Governor General’s Literary Award for her playwriting debut, China Doll, and the Canadian Citizen Award for her work with Crossing Gibraltar while AD at Cahoots Theatre. She has been artist-in-residence with Factory Theatre, Banff Playwrights’ Lab, Tapestry Opera, Cahoots Theatre, Theatre Centre (with 6th Man Collective), Theatre Direct Canada, SUNY (Geneseo, New York) and Theatre du Pif (Hong Kong). Upcoming works: The Year of the Cello, co-created with Njo Kong Kie and the operatic adaptation of Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing with composer Tim Brady.

Njo Kong Kie — Co-creator, Composer, Sound Designer & Musical Director

A picnic and ping pong enthusiast, Kong Kie also enjoys composing for dance, opera and theatre. His works include the concert-theatre Picnic in the Cemetery; the song-cycle I swallowed a moon made of iron (set to poetry of Xu Lizhi); comic opera knotty together (with Anna Chatterton); and music theatre Mr. Shi and His Lover (with Wong Teng Chi). Long-serving music director of La La La Human Steps, Kong Kie has collaborated with other choreographers as well as filmmakers to provide soundtrack for their works. www.musicpicnic.com

Rong Fu — Wen

Rong Fu is a Chinese-Canadian actor based in Toronto, who once carried a goat up a mountain at the tender age of fifteen. Select Theatre: Stage Kiss, The Orchard (After Chekhov) (Shaw Festival), Sherlock Holmes and The Raven’s Curse (Vertigo Theatre), The Crucible, The Royal Comedians (Soulpepper), The Millennial Malcontent (Tarragon Theatre), the marquise of O— (SummerWorks), The Money Tree (Roseneath Theatre, Dora Nomination). Recent Film/TV: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (CBS/Paramount+), Hello, Again (CBC Gem), My Fake Boyfriend (Buzzfeed/Lionsgate), Good Sam (CBS), Pretty Hard Cases (CBC/NBC), SkyMed (CBC/CBS). @rongideas / officialrongfu.com

Bryan Holt — The Cellist

Known for his artistic versatility, Bryan Holt has performed throughout North America and abroad in numerous concert halls and alternative venues. Bryan has appeared with many of the leading ensembles in the Greater Toronto Area including Art of Time Ensemble, Continuum Contemporary Music, Tapestry Opera, Against the Grain Theatre, and more. He has occasionally appeared in the cello sections of the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, National Ballet of Canada Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Esprit Orchestra and more.

Bryan is one half of VC2 Cello Duo alongside his long-time colleague Amahl Arulanandam and they have been hailed by CBC Radio as “a tight unit, with excellent intonation and expression.” The duo will release their second album in February 2023.

Bryan completed his Doctorate of Music at the University of Toronto and also holds a Masters Degree from McGill University. He maintains a private studio in downtown Toronto while also visiting several schools as a guest coach.

Matt McGeachy – Dramaturg

Matt McGeachy (Dramaturg) For Theatre Passe Muraille: debut. Matt spent ten seasons as dramaturg at Factory Theatre, and has also worked with playwrights at the Guthrie Theater, the Kennedy Center, Canadian Stage, York University, SummerWorks, and Banff Centre, among others. Upcoming: The Waltz, Vierge, and Armadillos (Factory Theatre); and First Metis Man of Odesa (national tour). Matt is a member of LMDA, and treasurer and interim president of LMDA Canada.

Indrit Kasapi – Additional Dramaturgy

Born in Albania, Indrit has made Tkarón:to his home since 2000. He is the Founding Artistic Producer for lemonTree creations and Artistic Producer for Theatre Passe Muraille. lemonTree creations focuses on queer works, and Indrit has produced, acted in, choreographed and directed several critically acclaimed and award winning productions.
As the Artistic Producer of Canada’s original alternative theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille, Indrit continues to develop exciting new theatrical voices while also focusing on national and international touring for the company. He’s an Acting graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada, a 2018 Harold Award Winner and a 2020 Dora Nominated performer.

Karthy Chin – Additional Dramaturgy

Karthy Chin is a producer, theatre director, and writer. As a theatre artist, she has worked with a variety of companies including Stratford, Cahoots, Factory, Driftwood, and Tarragon. She is a former participant of the Paprika Directors’ Lab and the Factory Foremen, and a graduate of Generator’s Artist Producer Training program. As a producer, she has worked for Shakespeare in the Ruff, SummerWorks, Luminato and Toronto Fringe Festival. As the Dramaturgy and Accessibiliy Intern at TPM, she is interested in how accessibility can be embedded in the creative process.

Vivian Chong – Accessibility Consultant

Vivian Chong is an accessibility consultant for theatre, art and graphic novel and film. Vivian was nominated for Dora Award Most Outstanding performer in her leading role in Dancing With The Universe in 2022. Her graphic novel Dancing After TEN was short listed for The Toronto Book Award in 2020. Besides creating theatre and art, Vivian also races in triathlons in the summer. She was the recipient of the athlete of the year by Achilles Canada, a track club for people with disabilities. Vivian is the founder of accessible yoga program and currently teaching yoga to yogis living with vision lost like herself. Vivian is the recipient of The Ontario Service Award for her volunteer work in blind summer camp helping young children adapting to blindness.

Jess Watkin – Accessibility Dramaturgy

Dr. Jess Watkin finished her PhD at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies. She is a Blind artist-scholar focusing on Disability Dramturgy, care, support, and softness in creative ways. She edited the first collection of Disability plays in Canada, Interdependent Magic, which is available through Playwrights Canada Press.

The Cello

Bryan Holt’s instrument is an antique German cello from ca.1890 (maker unknown). He plays with bows made by Ottawa-based maker Bernard Walke, one of which has been nicknamed “Excalibur II”.