BREAKING MUSICAL BOUNDARIES
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