Pianist Gu Jieting’s musical aims to connect French composer Claude Debussy and Chinese opera. Chen Nan reports.
Gu Jieting started taking piano lessons at a very early age and was enrolled in the primary school and middle school of the Shanghai Conservatory ofMusic. But she says in her childhood she dreamed of becoming a photographer or an independent publisher. “Being a pianist was notmy first option,” Gu says.
Gu, who wears neat short hair and talks quickly, believes that her musical focus is more about experimenting than doing tours, which seems to be a trend among classical pianists in China.
Before she turns 33 in December, Gu will bring her musical Rencontre between Debussy and Du Liniang to Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts on Nov 14.
Rencontre between Debussy and Du Liniang combines piano, played by Gu, with Chinese Kunqu Opera classic The Peony Pavilion, which is based on the work of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) playwright Tang Xianzu.
The musical also has others — artists Yang Yongliang and Xu Yi; and a live band featuring bamboo flutist Shi Chengji, zhongruan (a Chinese plucked string instrument) player Chao Chen and composer Jin Weiwei who strive to expand the dimensions of the piano and Kunqu Opera.
In Tang’s work, the story revolves around Liu Mengmei, a poor young scholar, and Du Liniang, the daughter of a high-ranking official, who share the dream of meeting and falling in love under a tree, despite the fact that they’ve never met. Tormented by this unfulfilled love, Du dies. Years later, Liu passes by the same garden and finds Du’s portrait. He immediately recognizes the woman and eventually digs her out of her grave, “revives” her and marries her.
In Gu’s rendition, Du stands out as an independent role, singing to the music selected from French composer Claude Debussy’s piano repertoires, such as The Girl with the FlaxenHair and Clair de Lune. “Debussy is one of my favorite composers. WhenI was young, I played lots of his works but was not able to fully understand him,” Gu tells China Daily. As for Kunqu Opera, Gu’s family introduced her to the trad i t i o n a l Chinese art form as a child. Gu’s great-uncle, V.K. Wellington Koo, was a DebussyandDuLiniang. Rencontrebetween prominent diplomat of the Republic of China; and her father, Gu Keren, studies traditional Chinese literatureandisaKunquOperascholar.
At age 18, she went to Conservatoire de Paris on full scholarship and graduated with a master’s degree in piano and chamber music. She returned to Shanghai around four years ago.
Her study in France enabled Gu to better interpret Debussy and she realized the composer was fond of using unusual scale patterns, especially pentatonic scale, a musical scale containing five different tones, which is the basic scale of traditional Chinese music. Since 2009 she has been doing a comparative analysis of Debussy’s piano music and traditional Chinese music.
Over the past five years, Gu has widened the subject to Chinese traditional painting, architecture and poetry. Kunqu Opera is part of her research on connecting Chinese culture with Debussy’s music.
In 2014, she presented a 15-minute show, which, by working with Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theater, formed the basis of the later production Rencontre between Debussy and Du Liniang.
Lu Jia, a veteran Kunqu Opera performer of the Suzhou theater, plays the role of Du in Gu’s production. “When Kunqu Opera and Debussy’s music come together, it turns out to be harmonious and compatible,” says Lu.
According to Gu, Rencontre between DebussyandDuLiniang is the first production of her series, I Fantasie— a multiplatform music theater concept, in which she experiments not just with music but also on a broader artistic level.
“I will adjust Rencontre between Debussy and Du Liniang as we stage it more,” Gu says.
“Both contemporary Western art and traditional Chinese art heavily influenced me. And withmy projects, I like to push boundaries and reach a balance.”
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Gu Jieting, pianist. Gu Jieting and Kunqu Opera actress Lu Jia share the stage during the show 7:30 pm, Nov 14. 2 West Chang’an Avenue, Xicheng district, Beijing. 010-6655-0000.
Nick Valensi performs during the 64th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes.