The Floating Box, A Story in Chinatown (2005)

by Jason Kao Hwang, Catherine Filloux

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The Floating Box, A Story in Chinatown was released by New World Records in 2005.


THE BEST OF THE YEAR. Our ten favorite full-length opera recordings of the year were Jason Kao Hwang's startlingly original The Floating Box, its complexities untangled by conductor Juan Carlos Rivas.
- F. Paul Driscoll and Oussama Zahr, Opera News, January, 200

Originality spills out of every measure of The Floating Box, and the polycultural combinations of instruments produces a dizzying array of colors - each of which has an acutely provocative impact.
Joshua Rosenbaum, Opera News, September, 200

If Hwang's name might be unfamiliar to readers of this journal that is largely because he has confined his musical activities to date to World Music and Jazz. And while The Floating Box is not his first foray into the field of formal composition, it is certainly a sufficiently accomplished work to warrant a wider international audience than his music has hitherto enjoyed.
- Marc Rochester, International Record Review, June 30, 2005

Music: Jason Kao Hwang
Libretto: Catherine Filloux
Conductor: Juan Rivas
Director: Jean Randich

Eva (Yee-Wa): Sandia Ang
Mother: Ryu-Kyung Kim
Father’s ghost: Zheng Zhou
Student Voices: Charlee Chiv, Scott Chan, Mona Chiang, Wai Ching Ho, Henry Yuk

Juan Carlos Rivas - conductor
Min Xiao Fen - pipa (Chinese lute)
Diana Herold - vibraphone, percussion
Patti Monson - piccolo, flute, alto flute
William Schimmel - accordion
Michiyo Suzuki - B flat clarinet, bass clarinet
Satoshi Takeishi - percussion
Tomas Ulrich - cello
Wang Guowei - gaohu, erhu, zhonghu (Chinese two-stringed violins)

With an orchestration of Chinese and Western instruments, The Floating Box, A Story in Chinatown boldly charts the journey of an immigrant family over continents, languages, and generations. After her father’s sudden death, Eva/Yee-Wa, who was raised in the U.S., struggles with her mother’s fierce silence. As her father appears in both memory and spirit, she confronts a forbidden box of composite photographs, fragmented images, which unearth a mysterious past. Set in a small apartment in New York City’s Chinatown, tales of love, tragedy and heroism, from both China and America, are unveiled in a story, which flows freely through time. With music creating a cross-cultural landscape of dreams, memories, and stark realities, The Floating Box, A Story in Chinatown tells an essential and mythic tale of one family’s loss, transformation, and survival.

The Floating Box, A Story in Chinatown was originally presented by the Asia Society, Museum of Chinese in the Americas, and Music from China on October 25, 26, 27 and November 1, 2, and 3, 2001 at the Asia Society in New York City.

One hour and forty minutes

The action of the opera takes place in Chinatown, New York, in the 1980s.

Prologue. Eva tries to sneak a look in the red box, a family heirloom, on the altar. The mother takes the box away and secretly removes a cutout photo of Eva’s father.

Scene 1. The Women of the Grave. Eva and her mother perform burial rites at her father’s grave.

Scene 2. Ghost in the Classroom. Eva is teaching English to immigrants, when the ghost of her father enters the classroom.

Scene 3. Broken Pieces. Eva takes care of her mother in their apartment. The mother speaks only Chinese, although she repeats words in English from the radio weather report. The mother replays an old record of traditional erhu music.

Scene 4. First Words, First Drink. Eva tries to flee with her suitcase but the ghost of her father blocks her path. When he hands her a glass of water, she reverts to childhood, learning how to speak her first words of English and reliving her father’s playful lesson about water. Losing herself in past memories, Eva quits her teaching job and stays home.

Scene 5. The Red Box. Eva sneaks open the red box and, like a young girl, plays with the cutout figures of family photos. Frustrated by the family’s isolation, Eva tries to throw the box out the window. Her mother stops her and Eva rebels.

Scene 6. No Name. Eva sinks into depression, not speaking, not eating or leaving the apartment. The mother tries to rouse Eva back to life.

Scene 7. You Opened Your Mouth, A Fish Came Out! The mother tries to find a way to reach Eva, revealing that Eva’s father was a famous erhu musician in China. He is the musician playing on the record. In America he worked as a cook on a cruise ship. The
young father appears and relives the story of his erhu being thrown overboard by his boss. Eva feels deceived that she knew nothing of her parents’ past.

Scene 8. Across the Seas. Eva’s mother confesses that she worked downstairs in a photo studio when they first arrived. Eva asks what her parents want from her.

Scene 9. Weeds. Eva approaches the ghost of her father and he encourages her to “throw some weeds” on his grave.

Scene 10. Eva. Eva’s mother stacks up the boxes of piecework to return to the factory. Eva feels her mother’s love and they kiss for the first time. Eva begins to teach her mother English from the weather report, and Eva’s mother finally says Eva’s American name.


released January 1, 2005

Set Design: Alexander Dodge
Costume Design: Linda Cho
Lighting/projection design: Clifton Taylor
Rehearsal pianist: Hyeseon Shin

Recorded at Avatar Studios on October 30, 2001.
Producers: Susan Cheng, Music From China, and Jason Kao Hwang
Recording Engineer: Jon Rosenberg
Mixing Engineer: Leslie Lavalenet
Assistant Engineers: Brian Montgomery, Ross Peterson, Anthony Ruotolo
Student voices recorded at Harvestworks Studios
Engineers: Paul Geluso, Leslie Lavelanet
Digital mastering: Paul Zinman, SoundByte Productions, NYC

Front booklet cover photo: Low family, courtesy of Museum of Chinese in the Americas. All other photographs courtesy of Rachel Cooper.

Cover design: Bob Defrin Design, Inc., NYC

THE FLOATING BOX, A Story in Chinatown, all music by Jason Kao Hwang, Flying Panda Music, BMI 2001

THE FLOATING BOX, A Story in Chinatown was originally presented by the Asia Society, Museum of Chinese in the Americas, and Music from China on October 25, 26, 27 and November 1, 2, and 3, 2001 at the Asia Society in New York City.

Production Staff

Rachel Cooper, Producer/ Asia Society
Frances Hui, Assistant Producer/ Asia Society
Cindy Kocher, stage manager
Joel Rand Pape, technical director
Thomas Kelly, set builder
Carmen Gee, costume fabricator
Garth Silbertein, wardrobe
Daniel Lawren, props
Amy Harper, light board operator
Billy Burns, deck manager
Patrick Long, music copyist
Patrick Long/ Jason Hwang, piano score
Samantha Hoover, production assistant

Asia Society
Cultural Programs
Vishakha N. Desai, Senior Vice President and Director of the Museum and Cultural Programs Rachel Cooper, Director for Performing Arts and Public Programs
Frances Hui, Administrative Associate for Performing Arts
Sunita S. Mukhi, Programs Associate, Multidisciplinary Projects

Museum of Chinese in the Americas
Fay Chew Matsuda, Executive Director
Cynthia Lee, Deputy Director of Programs
Lamgen Leon, Chief of Operations and Facilities
Michael Hew Wing, Program Associate
Sushan Chin, Curator of Collections
Erika Gee, Curator of Education

Music From China
Susan Cheng, Executive Director
Wang Guowei, Artistic Director

Commissioned by the Asia Society, Museum of Chinese in the Americas, and Music From China with the support of Meet the Composer/New Residencies, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, the New York Community Trust, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Puffin Foundation, the C.J. Huang Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, the Margaret Fairbank Jory Copying Assistance Program, City
of New York Department of Cultural Affairs, National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

This recording was made possible by grants from The Aaron Copland Fund for Music and the Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trust.

Dedicated in Loving Memory to My Father
Dr. Kao Hwang

Special thanks to New Dramatists, American Opera Projects, Matthew Adelson, Atteqa Ali, Asian America Arts Alliance, Merv Antonio, Lisa Bielawa, Melis Bilgin, Michelle Caswell, Sophie L. Chan, Tina and Hing Chan, Joshua Chambers-Letson, Tim Childs, Yim Chin, Lori Tan Chinn, Ping Chong, Joseph Colaneri, Marya Columbia, John
Daggett, Liza Dawe, Anna Dembska, Isabelle Duchesne, Fred Frumberg, Richard Harper, Grethe Holby, Emily Howard, Charles Jardin, Risa Jaroslow, Tian Hao Jiang, Grace Kang, Mia Katigbak, Amir Kats, Paul Kellogg, Melissa Kievman, Ming Cho Lee, Betsy Lee, Winnie Lee, Mildred Lee, Todd London, Michael Lowenstern, George
Manahan, Tino Martinez, Materials for the Arts, Ron Nakahara, Makiko Narumi, Gayletha Nichols, Steve Osgood, Robert Perry, Jon Rand, Joel Sachs, Michael Salerno, Lois C. Schwartz, Casey Siegel, Sophia Skiles, Robin Thompson, University Settlement House, Ching Valdes-Aran, Samuel Wong, Eunice Wong, Wynne Wu, Alison Yu,
Sharon Yuan, Xie Yuan, Margaret Yuan, and Harold Yuen.

Herman E. Krawitz, President; Paul M. Tai, Director of Artists and Repertory; Lisa Kahlden, Director of Information
Technology; Virginia Hayward, Administrative Associate; Mojisola Oké, Bookkeeper; Dan Parratt, Production Associate.

Richard Aspinwall; Milton Babbitt; John Lee Carroll; Emanuel Gerard; David Hamilton; Rita Hauser; Herman E. Krawitz; Robert Marx; Arthur Moorhead; Elizabeth Ostrow; Cynthia Parker; Larry Polansky; Don Roberts; Marilyn Shapiro; Patrick Smith; Frank Stanton. Francis Goelet (1926–1998), Chairman

p & © 2005 Recorded Anthology of American Music, Inc. All rights reserved. Printed in U.S.A.



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Jason Kao Hwang Morris Plains, New Jersey

Jason Kao Hwang (composer/violin/viola) recently released Sing House and VOICE. In 2012, NPR selected Burning Bridge as one of the year’s Top CDS and the Downbeat Critics’ Poll voted him “Rising Star for Violin.” In 2011 and 2012 the El Intruso Critic's poll voted him #1 for Violin/Viola. Mr. Hwang has worked with Pauline Oliveros, Wadada Leo Smith, William Parker, Anthony Braxton, and others. ... more

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Track Name: Scene 3. Broken Pieces; "Your paper, ah-mah" Eva
track 6, disk 1
Track Name: I know this song (Mother)
track 7, disk 1