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Postcards from Erica – March 2024

Trying to find unaccompanied cello music by  Asian composers? Look no further. 

Postcards from Erica

This month, I’m sending you the first installment in my new series of postcards on unaccompanied works for cello by Asian composers. You can find my previous postcards here.

I created my online “just-the-facts-ma’am”-style digital postcards to introduce listeners to new-to-you cello music and to help cellists, orchestra directors, cello teachers, and students seeking new repertoire, contest pieces, and supplemental literature.

These monthly postcards give you the information you need to help you choose a piece that’s right for you. I also include links to make it easy for you to locate and purchase the sheet music you want. I hope you enjoy exploring these pieces as much as I did selecting them.

You can also read a quick round-up of my postcards featuring works by Black composers, my series featuring women composers, the series I just completed on Hispanic and Latino/Latina composers, or revisit all of my postcards.

Postcard #1: Prayer on the Seashore by Kohei Kondo

Japanese composer Kohei Kondo (近藤 浩平) describes himself as a “Japanese composer of contemporary classical music.” Kondo was born in Hyogo prefecture and completed his studies in musicology at Kwansei Gakuin University. He has composed for a broad range of solo instruments as well as chamber, vocal, and orchestral works. This piece, “Prayer on the seashore. In memoriam of victims of earthquake and nuclear reactors. Op.121” (2011) has been performed over 150 times by musicians around the world.

  • Title: Prayer on the Seashore
  • Composer: Kohei Kondo
  • Year Composed: 2011
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration: 4:30
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Number of Measures: 80
  • Tempo: quarter note = 80
  • Difficulty Level: intermediate
  • Highest Position Reached: 3rd
  • Technique Employed: bass clef; 12/16, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, and 7/4 time signatures; triplets
  • Publisher: Kohei Kondo
  • Where to Obtain: IMSLP
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: free digital download



Program Notes

“Composed in memoriam of victims of earthquake and nuclear reactors. Composed after the earthquake in the east part of Japan on March 11th, 2011, and the Fukushima nuclear reactor accident. When you use this work, please visit the composer’s website ( and inform the composer about the concert.” – Kohei Kondo

Cellist’s Guide

This contemplative piece lies well on the instrument and would be great practice for those looking to shore up their knowledge of third position on the lower strings. Intermediate players might find a few rhythms tricky, but manageable.

While Prayer on the Seashore is technically accessible for the intermediate player, there is a lot of room for the advanced/professional player to showcase musical expression through advanced bow work, variations in vibrato, and use of rubato.

Postcard #2: Froggy, Froggy by Jean Ahn

Korean-born Jean Ahn began studying piano and composition at an early age. Most recently, she has served as the director of Ensemble ARI and a lecturer at UC Berkeley where her faculty bio notes that “her creative output includes works ranging from solo instruments to full orchestra, as well as choral, dance and electroacoustic music.” Ahn’s extensive research into Korean folksongs and art songs has been presented in numerous forums in North and South America and is expected to be published in 2024.

  • Title: Froggy, Froggy
  • Composer: Jean Ahn
  • Year Composed: 2009/2019
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration: 7:00
  • Number of Pages: 6
  • Number of Measures: 193
  • Tempo: quarter = 60, 80,  90, 108, 118
  • Difficulty Level: advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb position
  • Technique Employed: bass, tenor, and treble clefs; 3/8, 7/8, 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 time signatures; pizzicato and left-hand pizzicato; hitting the body of the cello with the hand, sul ponticello, sul tasto, jeté, col legno buttato, col legno tratto, bowing between the bridge and tailpiece; grace notes, double and quadruple stops; false harmonics, triplets and sextuplets; glissandos
  • Publisher: composer
  • Where to Obtain: Sheet Music Plus
  • Cost of sheet music*: $7.50
  • Recording: Sheet Music Plus (Please let us know if you record this on cello. Thank you!)

Program Notes

“The theme used in this piece comes from a Korean traditional song which goes “Froggy, froggy give me a new house.  Take my old one and give me a new one.”  I emphasized the two contrasting motives from the original song, one with staccato and the other with legato.

The repeating “Froggy, froggy” motive implies cherished desire from the childhood.” – Jean Ahn

Cellist’s Guide

Despite the name, Froggy, Froggy is not a children’s piece. This composition covers quite a variety of styles from calm and reflective to quirky and energetic. The opening has a few tricky rhythms, but the piece is, by and large, quite accessible.

I have rated this piece as advanced simply because it has a few high notes, sections with numerous accidentals, and modern bow techniques. I think that with some help, a high intermediate player could manage this piece.

Postcard #3: Varsha by Reena Esmail (repeated from January 2021 Postcards)

Indian-American composer Reena Esmail draws on her heritage to connect the worlds of Indian and Western classical music, bringing communities together. Previously, she received a Fulbright-Nehru grant to study Hindustani music in India. She focuses equally on composing orchestral, chamber and choral work. Currently, she serves as an Artistic Director of Shastra, a non-profit organization that promotes cross-cultural music connecting music traditions of India and the West.

  • Title: Varsha (Rain)
  • Composer: Reena Esmail
  • Year Composed: 2019
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 5:00
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Number of Measures: 57
  • Tempo: free and quarter note = 54
  • Difficulty Level: intermediate, comparable to Suzuki Book 6
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb position, but just for a few notes
  • Technique Employed: glissandos, grace notes, double & triple stops with only 1 fingered note, long slurs, bass and tenor clefs, 4/4 time signature
  • Publisher: composer
  • Where to Purchase:
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: 18 USD (digital copy)


Performance Notes: 

From the composer’s website:

“Varsha was written for the Haydn Seven Last Words project, for Juilliard415. The project commissioned seven composers (including Nico Muhly, Paola Prestini, Jessica Meyer, Tania Leon, Caroline Shaw and Colin Jacobsen) to write interludes between each of the Haydn quartets.

This piece, Varsha, serves as an interlude between Sonata V (Sitio – “I Thirst”) and Sonata VI (Consummatum Est – “It is finished”) of Haydn’s Seven Last Words. The combination of Hindustani raags used in this piece are from the Malhaar family, which are sung to beckon rain.

I imagined an interlude between these two sonatas: Christ thirsts. Rain comes from the distance (Megh Malhaar). There is a downpour around him (Miyan ki Malhaar), but he grows slowly weaker. His next words make clear that even the rain is not enough: his thirst is of another sort, which cannot be quenched by water. And so, it is finished.”

Cellist’s Guide

This is a piece that intermediate, advanced and professional players alike will enjoy.

From a technical standpoint, I would place Varsha in the intermediate category, as it sits well on the cello, is rhythmically straightforward, and generally stays below thumb position.

As the tempo is marked molto rubato and recitativo, intermediate cellists can begin to work on highly expressive playing, which is the hallmark of advanced and professional players.

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