Cre­at­ing a Chi­nese mu­si­cal mes­sage for a global au­di­ence

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - MUSIC - By CHEN NAN Song For

Chi­nese tenor Fan Jingma stops mid-sen­tence be­cause some­thing is both­er­ing him. “It’s too loud. I can­not con­cen­trate and think,” he says of the back­ground mu­sic be­ing played in the lobby of a high-rise build­ing lo­cated in down­town Bei­jing.

“We have so much dis­trac­tion in our daily lives,” Fan says af­ter mov­ing to a qui­eter place. “We re­ceive many mes­sages ev­ery day, but how many of them are healthy and use­ful for our ears and eyes?”

Fan is in the build­ing, where he is to give a con­cert along with other per­form­ers on Sun­day, in­clud­ing China Phil­har­monic’s mu­si­cians, cel­list Guan Zhengyue, pi­anist Chen Min and vi­o­lin­ist Chen Yun.

“I hope the au­di­ence will lis­ten to the mu­sic qui­etly. The con­cert is un­plugged with­out daz­zling stage sets and mu­si­cians won’t wear heavy makeup. It’s all about mu­sic,” says Fan.

The con­cert is part of Fan’s project, yage, which he ini­ti­ated in 2008. Yage which means “elegant song”, com­bines bel canto tech­nique, lieder style, and Chi­nese poetry.

One of the top tenors in China, Fan, 58, came to international at­ten­tion by win­ning the pres­ti­gious Cardiff Singer of the World Com­pe­ti­tion in Bri­tain in 1987, and the first prize at the Opera In­dex Vo­cal Com­pe­ti­tion in 1991 in New York.

In 1988, he left China to pur­sue his bel canto stud­ies un­der Ital­ian opera singer Carlo Ber­gonzi, and he then moved to New York to study with Franco Corelli.

Over the decades, he has per­formed at ma­jor opera houses around the world and his oper­atic reper­toire in­cludes ti­tle roles in Faust, Don Car­los, Tosca, La Travi­ata and The Magic Flute.

The idea of introducing yage to au­di­ences came from Fan’s long ca­reer of per­form­ing in Western opera houses.

“I trav­eled al­most the en­tire world. Dur­ing this pe­riod and in all the places I went, I saw that Western vo­cal mu­sic (not the sym­phonies and other in­stru­men­tal works) of Mozart, Beethoven, Schu­mann, Schu­bert, Mahler, Fauré, Ber­lioz, Tchaikovsky, Rach­mani­noff, and, of course, all those Ital­ian bel canto art songs and folk songs, sung around the world and ap­pre­ci­ated by ev­ery cul­ture. But Chi­nese mu­sic, on the other hand, was en­joyed only within China and by our­selves. Why? This both­ered me and oc­cu­pied my thoughts,” he says.

He also says that his project came from his at­tach­ment to Chi­nese poetry and mu­sic.

Fan, who was born in South­west China’s Sichuan prov­ince, was heav­ily in­flu­enced by his his­tory pro­fes­sor par­ents, who are both mu­sic lovers.

Brought up in an artis­tic at­mos­phere, he learned vi­olin as a child and his tal­ent for singing was dis­cov­ered by Lan Youqing, a teacher at the Sichuan Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic, who later be­came his first vo­cal in­struc­tor.

“My par­ents read Chi­nese poetry and lis­tened to mu­sic when I was young. But now, few peo­ple do that. We for­get our valu­able arts, which are unique,” says Fan, who grad­u­ated from the Sichuan Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic in 1982 and later fur­thered his stud­ies at the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic for a year, where he was trained by Shen Xiang, a renowned vo­cal pro­fes­sor at the con­ser­va­tory.

Mean­while, over the years, Fan con­ducted re­search on mu­sic pieces based on the works of Chi­nese schol­ars, writ­ers and poets of the 1920s and 1930s, such as Hu Shi and Liu Ban­nong.

In 2008, he re­leased an al­bum ti­tled Chi­nese Lieder, a col­lec­tion of Chi­nese art songs and folk songs, which forms part of his yage project.

The al­bum has works such as My Sen­ti­ments to the Yangtze River, which has lyrics by Li Zhiyi from the Song Dy­nasty (1127-1279); a Yun­nan folk song, The Run­ning Stream, and How Can I Not Miss Her, which has lyrics by Liu Ban­nong.

Fan also col­lab­o­rated with Chi­nese com­poser Zou Ye and his­tory scholar Liu Xue­feng from Pek­ing Univer­sity for his project.

Be­fore Fan brought his yage con­certs to China, he pre­sented the mu­sic genre abroad — at Yale Univer­sity, Carnegie Hall and Musikverein. If you go

7pm, Jan 15. At Ge­n­e­sis Bei­jing, No.8 Xinyuan Nanlu (South Road), Chaoyang district, Bei­jing.

The feed­back from Western au­di­ences was good be­cause the au­di­ences were fa­mil­iar with the in­stru­ments and the singing style.

“Usu­ally, Western au­di­ences say ‘it’s very in­ter­est­ing’ af­ter watch­ing a Chi­nese mu­sic per­for­mance, but they don’t ac­cept it. What I want to do with yage is to get them in­volved with our mu­sic,” says Fan.

Sep­a­rately, Fan has also teamed up with Ren­min Univer­sity and the East China Nor­mal Univer­sity to do re­search and pro­mote yage.

As for the fu­ture of his project, Fan says he is pleased that more peo­ple, es­pe­cially young mu­si­cians, are now will­ing to join him.

“This project of­fers a plat­form to young Chi­nese mu­si­cians. It’s not just about go­ing back to our own cul­ture but also de­liv­er­ing mes­sages, which rep­re­sent China, to the world,” says Fan.


Chi­nese tenor Fan Jingma (third from left) gives a con­cert along with other per­form­ers.

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