Chinese Composers With an Ear to the earth

“in which question brings my mind back to the endless debate within the 1920s as well as ’30s about ‘Americanness’ in music,” Mr. Sachs said. “Europeans liked to bray in which the only ‘American’ music was music based upon jazz. Henry Cowell, who was probably the most prominent voice of American composers in his many articles as well as interviews in European as well as Soviet newspapers, always argued in which such a edition of Americanness was rubbish. He maintained in which if a piece was composed in America, in which was American. The criterion had to be quality.”

in which Focus! will skip pieces using Chinese instruments was not so much an aesthetic choice as a logistical as well as philosophical one: in which might have required hiring players, a difficult move budgetarily as well as educationally, since the point of the festival is actually to give Juilliard students the opportunity to play brand-new music.


Guo Wenjing

Casa Ricordi/Universal Music Publishing

“The main exception in in which festival is actually the performance of Guo Wenjing’s concerto for erhu as well as orchestra,” Mr. Sachs said, referring to the two-stringed Chinese fiddle. “nevertheless, as in which happened, one of our alumni is actually both a first-rate violist as well as a busy professional erhu player. I also managed to get another piece into the festival after hearing in which as well as realizing in which the sound of the xun, a very ancient wind instrument, was very similar to the ocarina. When I asked the composer” — Yu Baoyu — “what he thought of doing in which with ocarina, he responded very enthusiastically. One of our flutists jumped at the chance to do in which.”

Yet if the instruments are Western, there are still glimmers of what could be called distinctively Chinese qualities about the music on these programs. Some make references to traditional Chinese melodies, some to Chinese aesthetics or ideas — pentatonic scales, for example — as well as some to the kind of evocations of nature (mountains, flowers) in which are widespread in Chinese culture. One young composer, among the seven commissioned to write a brand-new piece for Focus!, had imbibed the contemporary European trend of getting unusual sounds by instruments, nevertheless had used those techniques to subtly evoke — not imitate — the sound of traditional Chinese instruments.

One younger composer, Liang Nan, will be represented by two intriguingly contrasting pieces: a thornily up-to-date “European-style” brand-new work, as well as a song he wrote in 2015 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the victory over Japan in World War II. “The song, for soprano, cello, as well as piano,” Mr. Sachs said, “is actually very European-traditional, perhaps evoking the epoch of Fauré, nevertheless turned out to be so beautifully, creatively wrought in which I decided to program in which alongside the piece he has been commissioned to write, simply to show how two visions of music could flourish in one composer.”

Qigang CHEN’s “Luan Tan” (乱弹) UK Premiere a BBC Recording by Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Video by N Rapp

Contemporary Chinese composition takes place within the shadow of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s as well as ’70s, under which instrumental music, theoretical physics, mathematics as well as different abstract pattern languages seemed “safer” than more explicitly thematic artistic forms. nevertheless precisely because classical music is actually a space of privacy as well as fantasy, Mao found in which unacceptable. Underlying the era’s brutal house-to-house searches for pianos as well as busts of Beethoven was the fear in which music preserves a spirit in which is actually incompatible with the collective.


Chou Wen Chung

Andrew Renneisen/The brand-new York Times

In those bad old days, He Luting, director of the Shanghai Conservatory, was denounced for his passion for Debussy. As Lu Hongen, then the conductor of the Shanghai Symphony, was led off by the police in shackles, he asked his colleagues to lay flowers on the tomb of Beethoven. Music in China was a matter of life as well as death.

nevertheless the festival also features works by composers who were educated in a very different China, before Mao. One died a few years ago; another in August in his 90s; as well as another is actually still alive at in which age. Sang Tong, whose 1947 piece for violin as well as piano (China’s first 12-tone work) is actually a highlight of the festival, was an underground Communist guerrilla who studied having a former student of Schoenberg who had reached safety during World War II in Shanghai; after the revolution, insisting in which classical music shouldn’t be politicized, he suffered greatly. The composer Ye Xiaogang was sent down to work in a factory during the revolution.

The festival goes by the darkness of in which era all the way to a brand-new piece by Liu Sola, a Central Conservatory classmate of famous composers like Tan Dun, Chen Yi as well as Zhou Long. China’s first female rock ‘n’ roll star after the Cultural Revolution, Ms. Liu is actually best known for “Blues within the East,” an almost-avant-garde jazz-Chinese opera fusion in which scored a Top-10 hit in Britain.

A powerful setting of Tang dynasty poems for soprano, piano as well as two percussionists within the festival was composed in 1981 by Yang Liqing, the first Chinese composer to be sent abroad to study during the loosening of culture within the early 1980s. The poems are set in German translation as well as were published by the Shanghai Conservatory, as well as the style is actually a fascinating mixture of East as well as West. When Mr. Sachs asked the singer, the Hong Kong-born soprano Vivian Yau, if she could substitute the original Chinese texts, “she replied to me in which the songs were clearly written to be sung in German as well as could not be done in Chinese.”

“In short, as everywhere else, national styles may or may not be present,” Mr. Sachs added. “in which fact itself was to me extremely revealing. in which showed in which at least among high-quality Chinese composers, one can at in which point find almost anything — as well as any level of “Chineseness,” including none.”

Continue reading the main story