NCPA orchestra to hit the road

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The resident orchestra of the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing twice postponed its national tour in 2022 due to the pandemic, but as the country has optimized its COVID-19 response, the delayed tour will resume.

From March 13-24, the China NCPA Orchestra will perform eight concerts in five cities: Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Guangzhou and Changsha. Conductor Lyu Jia will preside.

"We are thrilled, fully prepared and eager to begin the tour and finally perform for people again," says Ren Xiaolong, managing director of the orchestra.

According to Ren, the orchestra have prepared more pieces than it did for its last national tour, and included a greater variety of styles from different places and times.

European classical music will be represented by Symphony No 7 in E Major by Austrian composer Anton Bruckner, Prelude to Act I from Lohengrin by German composer Richard Wagner and Symphony No 2 in D Major, Op 73, by German composer Johannes Brahms.

Chinese pieces will also be showcased during the national tour, including Reflet d'un temps disparu by Chen Qigang, Pipa Concerto No 2 by Zhao Jiping and Village Backyard, Op 89, by Ye Xiaogang.

Lyu selected for the performances a number of German and Austrian works because he believes they "are the very foundation of classical music".

Asked about playing Bruckner's Symphony No 7 in E Major, Li Zhe, the orchestra's principal violinist, says that it is a large and challenging piece: "There are four movements without breaks, which means we are going to play 85 minutes from the first note to the last."

In his sixties, Bruckner completed his seventh symphony; its premiere in 1884 was a great success. In the piece, the composer paid tribute to Wagner, who had died the year before. Bruckner opened the second movement with Wagner tubas, a kind of horn designed in the 19th century by the great German master.

"By including this along with the other two pieces by Wagner and Brahms, we hope to display our growth and achievement in interpreting German and Austrian composers over the past 10 years," says Li.

Zhao's Pipa Concerto No 2 was co-commissioned by the NCPA and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. It debuted in 2013 in Sydney, Australia. In 2014, the China NCPA Orchestra premiered it in Beijing.

During the upcoming tour, pipa player Zhang Qiang will join the China NCPA Orchestra to perform the piece.

"The composer is from northern China, and the audience may be able to detect his use of folk songs and other musical elements from the region. In Pipa Concerto No 2, Zhao was also inspired by pingtan, so the piece is a fusion of the musical styles of northern and southern China," says Ren.

Pingtan is a type of folk art from Suzhou, in East China's Jiangsu province, which combines storytelling and balladry in the local dialect. Performers are usually accompanied by traditional stringed instruments, such as the sanxian and pipa, as well as woodwinds.

During the tour, the audience will be treated to two different versions of Chen's Reflet d'un temps disparu. The piece, written in 1995 and premiered in 1998, is based on the well-known ancient Chinese melody Three Variations on the Plum Blossom, which was originally conceived for the guqin, a zitherlike instrument.

Chen's piece, originally written for the cello and orchestra, will be performed by erhu player Ma Xianghua, who first performed the work in 2001 during the Beijing Music Festival. Cellist Li-Wei Qin will round out the duet.

"Two different musical instruments — erhu and cello — allow the piece to sound unique. The audience will also gain a new perspective on the erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument," says Ma.

During the tour, a new piece, titled Yuan Du (From the Vessel of Ancient Souls), will also be staged. Composed by Yao Chen, its global premiere was on Feb 17 at the NCPA.

The new piece is based on veteran Chinese artist Han Meilin's Tian Shu (Book of Heaven) series of calligraphy works, which are inspired by ancient Chinese characters and graphic folk art symbols.

The China NCPA Orchestra was developed to meet the demands of the venue's tight performance schedule, especially for its own operatic productions, and to work with international artists.

Chen Zuohuang, the NCPA's founding music director, served as its first chief conductor.

Lyu took over in 2012, in the orchestra's second season. In 2022, he celebrated his 10th anniversary at its helm.

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