A celebration of traditional music

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Festival will showcase the unique sound of our heritage.

Recognizing the rising popularity of traditional music, which has been winning a growing fan base among Chinese audiences, especially young people, the National Center for the Performing Arts has launched a festival, Spring of Traditional Chinese Music.

The opening concert, held on April 8, saw a performance by the China National Traditional Orchestra led by three conductors, Liu Sha, Lyu Jia and Li Xincao.

"For the first time, we performed with conductors who have never performed with traditional Chinese musicians," says Zhao Cong, president of China National Traditional Orchestra, who is also a veteran pipa player. "When we discussed that idea with the NCPA, we were all very excited."

Liu is the principal conductor of the orchestra. Lyu is the artistic director of the NCPA Orchestra and Li is the principal conductor of the China National Symphony Orchestra as well as the orchestra's president.

Each of the conductors chose music pieces they would like to perform. A piece from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), titled The General's Order, was conducted by Liu, Cloudy Mountains and Glimpses of Geese, a contemporary piece written by Wang Danhong was conducted by Lyu, and The Silk Road, also a contemporary work, composed by Jiang Ying was conducted by Li.

"The sounds of traditional Chinese musical instruments are very different from Western musical instruments, which were totally new to me. The music pieces are also new to me. The whole process of doing rehearsals was very challenging, and a very interesting experience that I never had before," says Lyu, a classically trained musician, who has been leading the NCPA Orchestra for 10 years. "Those musicians are very sensitive to the sounds of their musical instruments and they helped me understand the music works as well as their musical instruments."

Like their names suggest, traditional Chinese music works are very poetic, conjuring up pictures such as mountains and clouds, Lyu says. It took him weeks to study the background information of each music work he was going to perform with the orchestra.

Besides Cloudy Mountains and Glimpses of Geese, he also performed the second movement of Ode to the Sun composed by Wang and Moonlight over the Autumn River composed by Hao Weiya, both contemporary pieces.

"I felt like being introduced into a new world of music, which is totally different from the world I have been living in for decades. All of those musical instruments, like percussions, pipa and erhu, are very versatile," says Lyu.

Like Lyu, Li is also a classically trained musician and he felt nervous before doing rehearsals with the orchestra.

"The difference between playing music works of traditional Chinese music and Western classical music is like reading sentences with two different tones," says Li. "It's also like communicating with two people with different personalities. But music is all about emotions and expression, which is mutual." Li also performed composer Zhao Jiping's music piece Guo Feng with the orchestra during the concert.

Li mentions that conductor Liu was very supportive throughout the rehearsals. They were both trained by Chinese conductor Xu Xin.

Back in 1994, Liu, then a middle school student living in Jinan, Shandong province, read an article about Li, who won the first prize at a national conducting competition, from a music magazine. At that time, Liu, who was introduced to music by his father, a flutist and composer of Shandong Liuzi Opera Troupe, dreamed of becoming a conductor.

"That article inspired me to pursue my dream as a conductor and also introduced me to conductor Xu Xin," recalls Liu, who wrote a letter to Xu, expressing his wish to be a conductor. To his surprise, Xu replied and invited him to Beijing to meet him at the Central Conservatory of Music, where Xu worked. In 1997, Liu was enrolled to study conducting at the school and joined the China National Traditional Orchestra in 2002.

"I also like Western music, and to explore the musical language and compositional techniques the composers used. But traditional Chinese music offers a bigger world to me. As a conductor, I could have much more, like using 'mother tongue'," says Liu.

From April 8 to 28, the festival will also have 10 concerts featuring Chinese traditional music orchestras, including the China Broadcasting Chinese Orchestra, the Beijing Chinese Orchestra, the Traditional Chamber Orchestra of the Central Conservatory of Music Concert and the National Traditional Orchestra Academia China. Conductors including Hong Yongyan and Chen Bing will be featured.

During the festival's closing ceremony, which will be held on April 28, the audience will enjoy a concert Night of Pipa. The China National Traditional Orchestra will perform with famous pipa soloists, including Wu Yuxia, Zhao Cong, and Yang Jing, under the baton of conductor Liu.

According to Wang Luli, deputy director of the NCPA's Program Management Department, the idea of launching the Spring of Traditional Chinese Music came from the NCPA's popular event the China Orchestra Festival, which has been held twice a year since 2008 and aims to showcase and promote symphony orchestras and Chinese music.

Wang says that the Spring of Traditional Chinese Music will also be held twice a year and will invite more conductors of symphony orchestras to work with traditional Chinese music orchestras.

"Nowadays, young people are drawn to traditional Chinese music thanks to the social media platforms, where many talented musicians showcase their traditional Chinese musical instruments. We've seen the trend and want to show them more about traditional Chinese music," says Zhao Cong, who is keen on promoting traditional Chinese music with creative approaches, such as livestreaming. "Though the musical instruments we play with are from ancient China, the sounds we make could be very pioneering, which deserve to be enjoyed by more people."

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