BREAK­ING MU­SI­CAL BOUND­ARIES

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - 10 Life -

When Amer­i­can com­poser-pi­anist Joel Hoff­man first en­coun­tered Chi­nese mu­sic decades ago, he found it in­ter­est­ing, ex­otic yet for­bid­ding like a closed door. But his cu­rios­ity and need to un­der­stand has al­ways been much stronger than the dif­fi­culty of trans­la­tion.

“It’s im­pos­si­ble to say whether the mo­ti­va­tion is more like the wish to solve a crazy dif­fi­cult puz­zle or sim­ply love.

“It must be both,” says the New York-based mu­si­cian, who was born in Van­cou­ver, Canada, in 1953.

He re­ceived de­grees from the Uni­ver­sity of Wales and the Juil­liard School in New York be­fore be­com­ing a pro­fes­sor of Col­lege-Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic, Uni­ver­sity of Cincin­nati.

Now, a guest pro­fes­sor at the China Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic, he has been vis­it­ing Bei­jing twice a year, for the past decade, be­sides work­ing with a num­ber of tal­ented mu­si­cians in China, in­clud­ing in­stru­men­tal­ists, con­duc­tors and com­posers.

Among the peo­ple he works with is Chi­nese bam­boo flute player Zhang Weil­iang, who is a pro­fes­sor and com­poser for the China Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic.

Six of Hoff­man’s nine works writ­ten for Chi­nese mu­si­cal in­stru­ments were com­mis­sioned by Zhang, in­clud­ing a bam­boo flute con­certo for him.

Their lat­est col­lab­o­ra­tion,

The Shadow of Wa­ter, com­posed by Hoff­man for six bam­boo flutes, pipa, guzheng (Chi­nese zither), erhu and vi­bra­phone, will be pre­miered at a con­cert on Wed­nes­day at the Na­tional Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts in Bei­jing.

The con­cert will pre­miere eight works writ­ten for tra­di­tional Chi­nese mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, with the theme of wa­ter, which is one of wux­ing, or the five el­e­ments — wa­ter, wood, fire, earth and metal — in tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture.

Speak­ing about what made him take up his lat­est as­sign­ment, Hoff­man, who has com­posed two works for Chi­nese tra­di­tional or­ches­tras be­sides cham­ber works of var­i­ous sizes and kinds, says: “For many years I was fas­ci­nated by Chi­nese tra­di­tional mu­sic and its re­mark­able set of in­stru­ments. But I am also in­ter­ested in the mu­sic of De­bussy. So when Zhang Weil­iang com­mis­sioned me to write a piece on wa­ter, I im­me­di­ately thought of the piece by De­bussy called Re­flets dans l’eau,” says Hoff­man

“Also, though I have en­coun­tered all the in­stru­ments found in The Shadow of Wa­ter be­fore, this par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tion is unique for me.”

The China Bam­boo Flute Or­ches­tra, which Zhang launched in 2012 and in which there are about 25 young Chi­nese tra­di­tional in­stru­men­tal­ists, will be part of the con­cert.

Since 2012, the or­ches­tra has been per­form­ing con­certs of pre­mier­ing new com­po­si­tions for tra­di­tional Chi­nese mu­si­cal in­stru­ments.

Be­sides The Shadow of Wa­ter by Hoff­man, the con­cert will also pre­miere works in­clud­ing Lake View for 10 bam­boo flutes by Liang Lei; Cold Ferry for 10 bam­boo flutes, guzheng, pipa and per­cus­sion in­stru­ments and Mot­tled for xiao (ver­ti­cal bam­boo flute), big flute, guzheng and the or­ches­tra, com­posed by Yang Qing, a teacher at the China Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic. Two of Zhang’s com­po­si­tions, Flow­ing Wa­ter and Drift­ing Clouds for eight bam­boo flutes, guzheng, erhu, pipa and vi­bra­phone; and Rime for fe­male vo­cal­ists, guzheng, vi­bra­phone and eight bam­boo flutes, will also be pre­miered at the con­cert.

Speak­ing about the im­por­tance of the con­cert, Zhang, 61, who was born in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, and started to learn to play bam­boo flute at the age of 8, says: “New ma­te­ri­als are cru­cial for the de­vel­op­ment of tra­di­tional Chi­nese mu­si­cal in­stru­ments. The eight works sound ori­en­tal and con­tem­po­rary, which breaks the stereo­type of tra­di­tional Chi­nese folk mu­sic as it is por­trayed tra­di­tion­ally on­stage or on screen,”

In­ci­den­tally, Zhang plays a wide range of Chi­nese flutes, but his artistry is not lim­ited to his in­stru­ments. And, he is also fo­cuses on im­prov­ing the in­stru­ments and find­ing new sounds.

“The pro­found cul­ture and his­tory of my home­town, Suzhou, has nour­ished my in­ter­est in Chi­nese flutes. For in­stance, the bam­boo flute is widely used in Kunqu Opera (among China’s old­est op­eras that dates back more than 600 years). So, I grew up lis­ten­ing to the mu­sic played on Chi­nese flutes,” says Zhang.

“For many, tra­di­tional Chi­nese mu­sic may sound old and out of fash­ion. But it’s not true and we, as tra­di­tional Chi­nese mu­si­cians, should let the won­der­ful re­sults be seen by more peo­ple.”

Zhang, who has more than 20 al­bums to his credit, has led his or­ches­tra to per­form glob­ally many times.

In 2017, the or­ches­tra toured France, which let Zhang meet up with French com­poser Arthur Thomassin, who is the direc­tor of the Con­ser­va­toire Departe­men­tal de Musique-Danse-Theatre de Bo­bigny in Paris.

Then, im­pressed with the per­for­mance, Thomassin pro­posed that Zhang teach his in­stru­ment at the con­ser­va­tory.

“The bam­boo flute will com­plete the flute fam­ily very well at the con­ser­va­tory and Zhang is a mu­si­cian of great hu­man­ity, great sen­si­tiv­ity and with a mas­ter­ful tech­nique,” Thomassin says, adding that the flute is an an­cientl in­stru­ment but it strad­dles the worlds of tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary mu­sic.

Mean­while, Zhang is pre­par­ing teach­ing ma­te­ri­als and will fly to Paris early next year to launch the course.

Thomassin says the next step will be to start classes for Chi­nese in­stru­ments like the erhu and the guzheng.

Con­tact the writer at chen­[email protected] chi­nadaily.com.cn

De­spite the dif­fi­cul­ties and dis­tress, Li specif­i­cally ex­pressed his grat­i­tude to Wang Jian, the for­mer direc­tor of the county’s trans­port bu­reau.

Quickly run­ning out of bud­get and ow­ing a great debt, Li had to seek sup­port from of­fi­cials to build a road and he went to the bu­reau to ex­plain his dilemma.

Wang im­me­di­ately filed a re­port to the provin­cial gov­ern­ment and man­aged to build a road on Ma­tou Moun­tain in just 20 days.

So far, Li has spent over five mil­lion yuan ($726,511) on his treeplant­ing project and has planted ap­prox­i­mately 3 mil­lion trees.

“At first, I would put in 100,000 or 200,000 yuan each year. Now, I only need to spend about 20,000 yearly, to re­place the dead trees with new ones,” Li says.

Li has now paid back most of his debt with his earn­ings from rais­ing cat­tle. “Now the en­vi­ron­ment is quite nice, and the moun­tain is in close prox­im­ity to Youyu’s his­tor­i­cal site Shahukou. I am even think­ing of de­vel­op­ing agri­tourism here.

“Some peo­ple have asked me what I am aim­ing for, but I re­ally don’t know the an­swer. I just sim­ply love trees,” Li says. “At least I have done one thing in my life. I have gone through ad­ver­sity, but now I feel proud and a strong sense of ac­com­plish­ment.”

Con­tact the writ­ers at [email protected]­nadaily.com.cn

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