If you check my VodPod and search this blog you will find quite a few examples of and references to both Chinese music, which I have really come to appreciate, and to Chinese performers of Western classical music. See for example Erhu at Central Station here; Listening to the erhu on a winter night, Music and memory, and Now playing: Lang Lang on Floating Life Apr 06-Nov 07.
So A Critic Abroad: Symphony of Millions: A Critic at Large: The New Yorker greatly interests me.
…The curious thing about the Chinese enthusiasm for Western classical music is that the People’s Republic, with its far-flung provinces and myriad ethnic groups, possesses a store of musical traditions that rival in intricacy the proudest products of Europe, and go back much deeper in time. Holding to core principles in the face of change, traditional Chinese music is more “classical” than anything in the West.
In many of Beijing’s public spaces, you see amateurs playing native instruments, especially the dizi, or bamboo flute, and the erhu, or two-stringed fiddle. They perform mostly for their own pleasure, not for money. But it’s surprisingly difficult to find professional performances in strict classical style. In concert halls, the instruments are often deposited, as a sonic spice, into Western-style arrangements, as in the “Genghis Khan” symphony I heard at the Egg. Institutionalized “Chinese orchestras” imitate the layout of Western ensembles. Music intended for intimate spaces has been fleshed out, amplified, and transformed into spectacles suitable for national television. A colleague reports that an allegedly authentic evening of Chinese music in Shanghai ended, bafflingly, with a chunk of Mahler’s Second Symphony. Those who remain devoted to the ancient traditions often struggle to show their relevance in the age of “Super Girl.” Some master instrumentalists teach at the conservatories but seldom play in public. Even Peking opera, which attracts sizable crowds, feels the pressure. When, earlier this year, the Ministry of Education introduced a new program to foster interest in Peking opera among the young, a poll found that more than fifty per cent opposed the initiative as a waste of resources.
The project of revitalizing Chinese tradition has fallen to younger artists like Wu Na, who, at the age of thirty, has mastered what some consider the supreme aristocrat of instruments: the guqin, or seven-stringed zither. It is more than three thousand years old, and has a repertory that reaches back to the first millennium. Philosophers and poets from Confucius to Li Bai prided themselves on learning it. In the modern era, the guqin has become somewhat esoteric, though interest is growing again. With the support of an elderly Taiwanese couple, Wu runs a guqin school at a teahouse in Zhongshan Park, in Beijing. When I stopped by, two college students were seated at their instruments, imitating their instructor’s moves. Wu herself wasn’t there; she was in New York, on a fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council. After I returned home, I visited her at her temporary apartment, in Chelsea. When I walked in, she was listening to a recording of Liu Shaochun, one of the players who helped to preserve guqin tradition through the tumult of the revolution. It is music of intimate address and subtle power that is able to suggest immense spaces; skittering figures and arching melodies give way to sustained, slowly decaying tones and long, meditative pauses…