East meet­sWest

Pi­anist Gu Ji­et­ing’s mu­si­cal aims to con­nect French com­poser Claude De­bussy and Chi­nese opera. Chen Nan re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - Con­tact the writer at chen­nan@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.”

But work­ing apart from The Strokes’ charis­matic front­man Ju­lian Casablan­cas, Valensi says he strug­gled to write lyrics, spend­ing a full year pen­ning out thoughts.

“To be hon­est, man, at re­ally sucked at it,” he says.

He even­tu­ally set­tled on songs about his life ex­pe­ri­ences — Bro­ken Bones from his time with his arm in a sling — and dis­taste for so­cial phoni­ness.

But mostly Valensi let the mu­sic take the lead, say­ing he has an ear for lyrics that com­ple­ment the sound, even if he doesn’t see him­self as a poet.

“I’m a big be­liever that any­one can get bet­ter at any­thing just by do­ing it over and over again,” he says.

The 35-year-old says he was long­ing to re­turn to the road with CRX, but to play mid-sized clubs rather than The Strokes’ fes­ti­val­head­lin­ing sets.

The Strokes played sev­eral shows this year and re­leased an EP, Fu­ture Present Past.

But Valensi — men­tion­ing noth­ing about fric­tion with his band­mates — likens The Strokes to a freight train that needs time to get up to speed.

For their last al­bum, 2013’s Come­down Ma­chine, The Strokes de­cided against any tour or pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­ity.

“I’ve been do­ing this for over 15 years al­ready and some­times it’s hard to just re­mem­ber what was fun about it in the first place,” Valensi says.

De­light­ing in the warm weather and re­laxed vibe of Los An­ge­les, Valensi teamed up with his Cal­i­for­nia friends for CRX.

Josh Homme, the rocker from Queens of the Stone Age and Ea­gles of Death Metal, pro­duced New Skin. CRX’s lineup in­cludes Wil­lowz front­man Richie Follin. first I


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.

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