It seems to have happened this way more than once before; the three weeks of the Edinburgh Festival produces little or nothing in the way ofinteresting new music. and then Glasgow comes along quietly and unobtrusively. and delivers a blow which would have the Edinburgh Festival organisers reeling ifonly they noticed or cared. The music programme for tis year‘s Festival read a bit like the playlist for David Jacob‘s Your One Hundred Best Tunes. with only two first British performances. both ofsmall-scale works. Here comes the cavalry though: a Festival of New Chinese Music is to be held. from 12 to 17 September, at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. There will be five concerts. four of which will consist entirely ofworks which are receiving their British premieres. There will also be seminars and discussions. and a complementary season ofChinese films at the Glasgow Film Theatre.
The festival is to be a celebration of the flowering of serious music which has taken place in China over the last few years. During the Cultural Revolution music was condemned as ‘bourgeois revisionist‘. and was either suppressed or subjected to the heavy-handed artistic direction of Mao Tse-tung‘s wife Jiang Qing. Since the fall ofthe Gang ofFour. there has been a relaxation of control. and composers like Tan Dun. Qu Xiao-sing and Chen Qui-gang (the first two ofwhom will be in Glasgow for the festival. to talk about their work). have been allowed a free hand to experiment. to assimilate Western influences. and even to study in the West; Chen Qui-gang was a pupil of Messiaen in Paris. and Tan Dun is currently at Columbia University in New York. All of the composers whose work is being performed. however. have studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. which is something of a hotbed of musical innovation at the moment (though an artistic renaissance was perhaps inevitable after the years of oppression) and many of its graduates are now producing music which the organisers of the Glasgow festival describe as very original and exciting.
Qu Xiao-sing has written a chamber piece. Mong Dong. for both Western and Chinese instruments. It will be performed. along with four other works. by the New Music Group of Scotland and some musicians from the Central Conservatory in Beijing, on 14 September. in a concert conducted by Shao En. who is currently at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Shao En says he is looking forward very much to the concert, and to Mong Dong in particular. ‘It is.‘ he says, ‘one of the best Chinese contemporary pieces. The piece is a classic example of what we Chinese call PCR, that is, Post
NEW MUSIC FROM CHINA
SOUNDS OF THE
As Glasgow prepares to host an exciting programme of music and film from Post Cultural Revolution China. lain Grant. in the city ofthe cultural coup, meets Shao En. who is preparing to conduct an unusual orchestra of Eastern and Western instruments.
Cultural Revolution. music. The title.‘ he went on to explain. ‘refers to an ancient time. more than five thousand years ago. when there was no fighting. no conflict and no property. That time seems better to us than more recent times. particularly in the light of the cultural revolution. and the piece is a plea for a return to that kind of peacefulness and serenity.‘ The organisers see the staging of this concert as potentially problematical; there are language problems— none of the Chinese musicians speaks any English. nor do any of the members of the New Music Group ofScotland understand Chinese. even though they will. at one point. be required to sing in Chinese. There have also been organisational headaches; someone has had to be brought in to translate the scores in order to find out what instruments are required. then the Chinese instruments have had to be located and hired. and this country isn‘t exactly brimming with
erh-hus and their like. There have also been worries about whether the Chinese musicians would be allowed visas and work permits. though the Festival Director. Mike Newman. has been told that it will probably be all right. Shao En. however. doesn‘t foresee any problems with the actual performance. ‘The combination of Western with Chinese instruments is really quite easy. I have conducted Mong Dong several times in China. including the first recorded performance. and l have never encountered any real difficulty in using the two together.‘
The coming together of Western and Chinese musical styles is very much a feature ofthe festival. The works performed. apart from those which will be heard in the third of the concerts. which is devoted to a traditional Chinese piece. are all the product ofa movement in post
Cultural Revolutionary China which shares many stylistic features with the more experimental of modern European music. though the festival organisers have avoided composers whom they see as mere copiers of Western avant-gardists. They have decided instead to concentrate upon those composers who have gone on to develop a style of their own. a style which is recognisably Chinese. Even the pieces which are written for Western instruments will be cast in a decidedly Chinese idiom. and the titles ofsome of the pieces reflect this. So. while it might not be hard to imagine a Westerner calling a work ‘Voyage d‘un Réve‘ or even ‘Out of Peking Opera‘. the titles ‘Song ofthe Cin‘ and ‘Suspended Coffins on the Cliffs ofSucchuan‘ suggest immediately a certain Orientality. One of the works which uses only Western instrumentation is Ge Gan-ru‘s ‘Wu for Piano and Chamber Orchestra‘ which will form the centrepiece of the opening concert. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra will be joined by the young Scots pianist David Horne. who was a finalist in the BBC ‘s Young Musician of the Year contest. It will be his first time performing a new Chinese work in public. and he is reported to be nervous but excited at the prospect.
Death and disgrace
This will be the first festival devoted to new Chinese music that has ever been held outside China. and it is only fitting that such an important artistic happening should be something ofa multi-media event. The Glasgow Film Theatre is showing a season of recent Chinese films. Chinese cinema also having undergone a series of tribulations during the Cultural Revolution and a subsequent renaissance. Four ofthe films have scores written by Qu Xiao-song. the composer of Mong Dong. and the first film to be shown. appropriately. will be Zhang Zeming‘s Swansong which is the story of a composer struggling whilst out of favour with the Gang of Four to bring up his young son. The music in the film. composed by Zhou Xiayouan, acts as a metaphor for all that has befallen China in the last twenty years, as it first tries to conform to Maoist principles in the years of upheaval. and then finds itselfallowcd much more freedom,
whilst at the same time being almost swamped in a wave of Westernization, in the years which followed. Also showing during the week ofthe festival will be Sacnﬁced Youth by Zhang Luan-xin. and Tian Zhuang-zhaung‘s tale of life. death and disgrace amongst the Tibetan nomads. Horse Thief. Films showing later in the month and in early October include Chen Kaige’s famous Yellow Earth as well as Hibuscus Town and King ofthe Children.
The Festival of New Chinese Music, 8pm. 12—] 7Sept at RSA MD, Renfield Street, Glasgow. Details 041 332 5057. New Chinese Cinema concurrently at G F T, plus Yellow
Earth, 6 Sept. Details 041 332 6535.
The List 2 — 15 September 198811