Young composers get chance to understand Chinese culture

Young composers get chance to understand Chinese culture

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Ye Guohui(right), a dean at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, has initiated many cultural-exchange programs among musicians from home and abroad, such as a recent concert by C ASEAN Consonant Ensemble in Shanghai.

After listening to the Chinese ballad Little Cabbage, Chris Molina, a young composer from Boston, was reminded about stories he had heard about China.

Inspired by the stories of young people leaving the countryside and moving to the city, Molina composed Little Girl in the Big City for dizi (the Chinese flute) and orchestra.

The piece premiered at the Hearing China II concert at the He Luting Concert Hall of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in November 2016.

"Imagining Little Cabbage in the big city," the young composer writes in the introduction to his piece, "is both sad and uplifting at the same time.

"Hearing her song mingle, react, fight, take flight, and at times get swallowed up by the sounds of the city is a metaphor easy to understand," he says.

The concert featured eight music pieces by young composers from around the world.

Molina is a student at the University of Hawaii. And the other musicians are from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Oxford, Yale, Poland and New Zealand.

The Hearing China project was launched in 2015, and is the brainchild of Ye Guohui, a dean at the SCM.

Ye is an award-winning composer, with works featuring Chinese culture and music heritage.

He has also produced electronic, experimental and conceptual works.

He says the aim of the program is to have "an international platform for composers to understand traditional Chinese music culture and also to create and perform innovative works. It is a window for cultural exchange".

Ingenious ideas have to be used to make China's culture interesting and Chinese art easy to understand, he says.

A few years ago, Ye composed a piece for soprano and orchestra, Drinking Wine by the Stream's Choice, based on an essay by Wang Xizhi (303-361) called Lanting Ji Xu, which documents a literati gathering in the fourth century.

Ye presented the piece at music festivals abroad, performing the music, as well as telling the story of how ancient Chinese scholars partied.

According to Wang's essay, artists, writers and poets would sit at the river bank with a special cup that floated on the water.

When the cup floated near one of them, he would compose a stanza and drink the wine.

Ye even had an installation designed to allow the audience to play the game.

"It is a great device to tell a story to an international audience, and let them participate in the creative experience," he says.

"We want to have in-depth communication with other countries.

"Cultural influence is a subtle process. It does not work by feeding others what you produce."

Communication between artists and intellectuals from different cultural backgrounds is important to inspire new works, Ye says.

As a member of an educational institution, he believes communication can be achieved between musicians all over the world.

The 2017 Hearing China concert will kick off with a concert at the Shanghai Symphony Hall on Nov 12.

Young musicians from Israel, Australia, Russia and Canada will present traditional Chinese opera, folk songs and traditional melodies, with their adaptations, arrangements and compositions based on the motif.

While Hearing China is about the international music community's understanding of Chinese music, the recent concert by C ASEAN Consonant Ensemble was different.

The ensemble has been active since 2015, and comprises musicians from the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations, each playing their traditional music instruments.

When Ye learned about the group's tour plan earlier this year, he urged them to add one more concert to their schedule - one in Shanghai, to play compositions by the students and teachers of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

The concert called Beyond Frontier: The Harmonious Spirit of China-ASEAN took place at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music on May 17, and featured 13 pieces created for the ensemble by the postgraduate students and young teachers of the conservatory.

Even though the students and scholars at the conservatory are exposed to lots of music genres, styles and forms from all over the world, they still found "some of the instruments completely new", says Ye.

After the ensemble arrived in Shanghai, the musicians worked with the composers on the music.

"It was a great opportunity to learn about the folk music of Southeast Asia," says Ye, who hopes to extend the collaboration.

Now thanks to the support from the municipality and education authorities, the city's professional orchestras, such as the Shanghai Symphony and the Shanghai Philharmonic, will present concerts featuring the works of students, says Ye.

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