I don't remember exactly when the first time I heard this piece was... I believe it was my freshman year at Peabody. Either my freshman year or my sophomore year, but I would wager on it being my freshman year. Whatever. Regardless, the first person I ever heard perform this piece was actually the person I will be studying/working with next year, Ji Hye Jung. At this time, my understanding of music outside of the scope of classical tonality was pretty limited, and this was one of the pieces that left me mostly confused. Even then, though, I understood there was something profound about the piece. I just didn't know what.
My teacher put this piece on my recital program at the end of my fourth year at Peabody, and by then I understood the language of the piece much better. To put it as simply as I can, the piece is based on the octatonic scale--that is, a scale which is constructed of alternating whole steps and half steps. It's a mode of limited transposition, meaning that you only get three different transpositions of each scale. This being said, to call the piece "atonal" is simply inaccurate, which is what I did for years. It's not "atonal", it's just different than what I was used to.
The piece, as I presented it in my recital, was incomplete. I performed the first of two movements: "Dark and Heavy", or as my teacher calls it, the earth dance. The fire dance, also referred to as "Con Brio", is much more lively and technically demanding, while the first movement is much more emotionally demanding. I had prepared, and intended, to play both movements at my recital, but the program ended up being both longer and more physically draining than both my teacher and I had originally anticipated, and we decided to omit this movement from the performance. I would have loved to play it, but when it actually came time for me to perform this piece (the second to last piece on my program, not counting the "encore", Village Burial with Fire), I was exhausted--both emotionally and physically.
My exhaustion is very present to me in watching my performance now--I had a few memory slips I normally don't make, I played faster in general than I would've liked, my accuracy wasn't at it's best and I can tell my concentration was slipping. I'm still posting this for the sake of having my complete recital available to all those who couldn't make it, and it's been posted (way) out of order because I'm having some trouble extracting the earlier video. Even though it's definitely not the best performance I've given of this piece, it was the best I could do then. Hopefully, I'll have another opportunity to perform this piece someday, and hopefully that performance will exceed this one.