Friday, December 9, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art: Chinese Art Music: Yang Wei and Ensemble (@ClevelandArt)

The Program as Presented:
Busy Horses Deliver the Grain (Harvest) (Yangquin,eng, ehru, cello)
Tai Ping Tune (Pipa, sheng, erhu, dizi, cello)
A Plum Blossom--3 Variations (Ruan, sheng, pipa, dizi, cello)
Green Song (sheng, pipa)
Three Sighs at the Guan Pass (vocals, cello, guanzi, pipa, sheng)
Jade (pipa solo)
Autumn at Dressing Table (ruan, sheng, dizi)
Melody of Jin (cymbals, sheng, pipa)
Jian Nan Ho (pipa, sheng, maguhu)
Xiang Yun (Musical Sound of Hunan) (ruan, sheng, ehru, dizi, cello)
The Ancient Battlefield (pipa solo)
Lantern Festival (erhu, sheng, cello, pipa, dizi)
(Yang Wei, pipa, yangquin, ruan, music director; Wu Wei, sheng; Wang Hong, ehru, guanzi, maguhu; Miao Yimin, dizi; Mike Block, cello, ruan, vocal. At the Gartner Auditorium, Cleveland Museum of Art)

Rachel suggested that we attend tonight's concert at the Cleveland Museum of Art and I accepted eagerly... this afternoon though I was under a bit of an Advil-resistant headache. Based on what happened last time we almost forwent this concert. But we didn't and it was a great way to spend an evening -- and a relaxing way to end a stressful day.

The program -- as you can see above -- was extensive, with twelve pieces selected from a total of fourteen listed in the program and announced by Mr. Wei as the program progressed. Being introduced to the Ehru earlier this week as a solo instrument with Wednesday's Concert in the Galleries it was interesting to hear that instrument tonight as a part of an ensemble.

Between most pieces Mr. Wei provided commentary and background information -- for example there is apparently a contentious debate as to if the Ehru is a traditional Chinese instrument or not -- and the long histories of the instruments in the Chinese tradition used for tonight's performance -- from as old as 8,000 years to as "new" as 1,000 years.

Generally speaking the moods of the pieces played fit into one of three groups: Festive, Meditative, or Anguished. My favorites from the evening fit into that first category: The celebratory and energetic Busy Horses Deliver the Grain, according to the program note inspired by a dance tune opened the program and featured the only use of the Yangquin, a "hammer dulcimer", on tonight's program. Coming full circle to the Lantern Festival, where through bright musical colors it was easy to imagine lanterns being released above a celebratory and festive crowd. In between, Melody of Jin (a place) was the most percussive of the pieces was bright and chaotic with the only appearance of cymbals on the program.

The most meditative of the pieces -- Jade-- a piece for solo pipa was introduced by Mr. Wei noting that that Pipa colors can be "warm, dark, fresh, or messy" and that the composer had asked for varied colors. As the playing commenced I slipped into another world while I just let my brain go blank. In Jian Nan Ho, literally "The Beauty of Jian Nan", the balanced melodic sound of the piece seems to emulate that of a gently flowing river that moves on to a bit faster trot.

Spanning the meditative and anguished worlds, one of my favorite pieces was Three Sighs at the Guan Pass, based on a poem about forced exile and a man departing friends for an unknown future. The Chinese text of the poem ("The morning rain of Wei city drenches the light dust. The willow leaves near the inn appear to be greener. Let us toast one more time before departing, for after going through the West Gate, we, old friends, might never meet again") was sung by cellist Mike Block and was haunting.

Green Song originally composed in the late 80s for soprano and pipa but played tonight with sheng and pipa, was inspired by the poetry of Li Po, and Mr. Wei mentioned that the same poet had inspired many of Fu Baoshi's works. Though the program notes give no further background, listening to the piece I get the sense of two instruments searching against a desolate sound scape in solitude and an unrelenting and extremely heavy sense of pure anguish.

Speaking of anguish -- while the concert itself was delightful and far from it, the audience members surrounding us pushed both Rachel and I to our limits between the excessive -- and excessively loud program flipping plus elbowing and in-concert texting of one gentleman, and the pervasive conversations behind us left us both on the brink.


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