HIT­TING RARE NOTES

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

The world pre­miere of seven mu­si­cal pieces by Chi­nese com­posers was at the con­cert Mu­sic Con­tem­po­rary From China 2018 at Alice Tully Hall of the Lin­coln Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts in New York in late Jan­uary. The com­posers are all fac­ulty mem­bers of the Bei­jing-based Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic.

The piece, also per­formed by mu­si­cians from the con­ser­va­tory, fea­tured both tra­di­tional Chi­nese in­stru­ments and Western in­stru­ments.

“The new works have dif­fer­ent styles and guzheng (Chi­nese zither) is ca­pa­ble of mak­ing ver­sa­tile sounds,” says Ji Wei, a player of the in­stru­ment and an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor at the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic.

“I was very ex­cited and couldn’t wait to share the new mu­sic with the au­di­ence in the United States,” Ji says of her prepa­ra­tions in Bei­jing be­fore the con­cert of Jan 27.

Ji, 39, be­gan to learn the an­cient plucked in­stru­ment as a child and re­calls how au­di­ences were cu­ri­ous about guzheng when she first per­formed abroad in Ja­pan and the United States in the early 1990s.

“Even while I was in an elevator with my guzheng placed next to me, peo­ple who en­tered the elevator would ask me about it,” Ji says.

Now, she says more com­posers are in­ter­ested in the in­stru­ment and are will­ing to write mu­sic for it, which has kept guzheng alive as well as ex­panded its reper­toire in re­cent times.

Be­fore the con­cert in New York, Ji had per­formed with the Vi­enna Univer­sity Phil­har­monic at the Musikverein in Vi­enna on Dec 11 in a con­cert, which was the Euro­pean pre­miere of com­poser Vi­jay Upad­hyaya’s new work, the 75-minute Chang’an Men. Upad­hyaya, an In­dian-born, Vi­enna-based com­poser was com­mis­sioned to pro­duce the piece by the China Na­tional Sym­phony Orches­tra.

Speak­ing about Ji, Upad­hyaya says: “She is one of the most ac­com­plished and pro­fes­sional guzheng play­ers in China and the world. I was lucky to have her as a soloist in my com­po­si­tion. Ac­tu­ally, I needed to con­sult her some­times re­gard­ing the tech­ni­cal de­tails of the in­stru­ment while com­pos­ing.” A mu­sic teacher is work­ing to make the an­cient Chi­nese zither pop­u­lar with young peo­ple. re­ports.

Mean­while, the Chi­nese mu­si­cian has been delv­ing into tra­di­tional mu­sic as well as find­ing new sounds for her in­stru­ment.

Speak­ing about her work, Ji says: “What I want to do is to dis­play the beauty of the in­stru­ment by play­ing clas­sic guzheng pieces, such as A Moon­lit Night on the Spring River, The Evening Song of Fish­er­men, High Moun­tain and Flow­ing Water, and to bring the mod­ern side of the in­stru­ment to peo­ple, who may have ig­nored its po­ten­tial.”

In 2005, Ji made his­tory when the clas­si­cal record­ing la­bel Deutsche Gram­mophon pub­lished its first-ever guzheng piece At Night on the Lake Be­neath the Maple Bridge, fea­tur­ing her per­for­mance with world-renowned Chi­nese pian­ist Lang Lang. Ji has also recorded dozens of solo al­bums and has au­thored text­books and played with top en­sem­bles around the globe.

Born in Shi­ji­azhuang, He­bei prov­ince, Ji started to learn to play the in­stru­ment at the age of 5 at a lo­cal art train­ing school as her work­ing-class par­ents wanted their only child to re­ceive art ed­u­ca­tion. Then, the guzheng was not com­monly seen in cities in China.

“The in­stru­ment was ex­pen­sive and my mother drew the strings of guzheng on a piece of pa­per for me to prac­tice at home. I could only play the real guzheng at the school,” re­calls Ji. “For me, a shy young girl then, the in­stru­ment was very ex­pres­sive.”

In 1992, she was ad­mit­ted to the mid­dle school at­tached to the China Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic in Bei­jing and Wang Zhong­shan, one of the best­known guzheng mu­si­cians, was her teacher. Af­ter grad­u­a­tion she ob­tained her mas­ter’s de­gree from the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic in 2004 be­fore start­ing to teach there.

Ji was in­ter­ested in blend­ing the tra­di­tional in­stru­ment with mod­ern sounds even as a stu­dent.

“I am in­ter­ested in work­ing with mu­si­cians of dif­fer­ent styles and that’s the best way to pro­mote guzheng as well as dis­cov­er­ing the po­ten­tial of the in­stru­ment through col­lab­o­ra­tion,” says Ji, who has par­tic­i­pated in work­shops held by in­ter­na­tional con­ser­va­to­ries.

Be­fore her mas­ter’s de­gree was com­plete, Ji was in­vited to per­form in a con­cert with French elec­tronic mu­sic artist Jean Michel Jarre at the For­bid­den City in Bei­jing.

To pop­u­lar­ize the in­stru­ment among the young, Ji ini­ti­ated a guzheng ensem­ble in 2008, which has since gath­ered stu­dents from the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic and gives per­for­mances at venues like the Na­tional Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts and Bei­jing Con­cert Hall.

“I de­cided to be­come a teacher when I was a young stu­dent. I want to in­spire my stu­dents, too. It can be very ex­cit­ing to chal­lenge them to find some­thing new while re­main­ing rooted in tra­di­tional Chi­nese mu­sic,” she says.

Con­tact the writer at chen­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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