French pianist to launch China tour with new album

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Julien Gelas's new album includes songs inspired by traditional Chinese culture.

French pianist and composer Julien Gelas is going to launch a China tour by visiting seven cities, including Beijing, Hangzhou and Chengdu, from Jan 5 to Feb 4, in support of his new album, L'eclaircie.

This will be his first countrywide tour, although the musician has previously played in Beijing where he lived as well.

The album, comprising 15 songs composed by Gelas in the past two years, has a "Chinese touch". It will be released in the first half of next year.

Combining classical music with contemporary styles, like rock and electronic, it has songs inspired by traditional Chinese philosophy and literature, which Gelas has been learning for long.

"Chinese philosophy helped me to think about the process of creativity and it opened to me a new space for my imagination and thoughts," says the 28-year-old on email.

Gelas was introduced to classic Chinese philosophy and literature, including I Ching, by his mother when he was 8. He also learned Chinese martial arts as a child.

For example, Gelas wrote the title song, L'eclaircie, which means "sunny spell", about a year ago when he was teaching at Peking University.

"I composed this song in Beijing during a very clear day. The day before, the smog was very strong and suddenly the sun appeared in a blue sky. It was like rebirth for me and I wanted to express through this song that in life, I'll always have a sunny spell," says Gelas, who now lives in Avignon, a major city of Provence in Southern France.

Gelas was trained as a classical pianist since early childhood and graduated from University of Provence Aix-Marseille I. However, he decided to stop playing the piano at 16 because the "way of studying music in French conservatory was not what I was looking for".

He stopped music for four years and decided to visit to China to study Chinese language and culture.

"I was living in a Chinese calligrapher's house in Nanjing and there was a piano. I started to play it again and I felt at the time I was a new person. I felt that I could do what I wanted to do to compose music," recalls Gelas, who also obtained his PhD in Chinese philosophy from Paris' Sorbonne University this year.

"I am interested in the way Chinese philosophers think about the body and the link between the body and consciousness," he says.

Gelas travels to China every year with his Chinese wife, Liang Liwen.

Besides music, he is interested in theater thanks to his father, who is a renowned French theater director. Growing up, Gelas watched a lot of performances that inspired him to become an artist.

In March, he directed a play A Streetcar Named Desire at Nanjing University of the Arts in Nanjing, Jiangsu province.

The 1947 play by Tennessee Williams starred 10 sophomore students from the university.

"Sometimes I play music like a theater man, and I direct theater like a musician. These two different art forms are always exchanging places in my head," he says.

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