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Jazz-infused journey through Kunqu Opera
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A unique jazz-infused journey through the kingdom of Kunqu Opera with Belgian musician Jean Maljean and singer Zhang Jun will give this ancient Chinese art form a sophisticated, modern twist.

What happens when jazz meets Kunqu Opera? Will it be a spark or a conflict? All will be revealed at the forthcoming concerts co-presented by Belgian pianist/composer Jean Maljean and dynamic young Kunqu Opera singer Zhang Jun.

Maljean, former lead singer with pop band Maljean-Willems for more than a decade, has composed original piano music that combines elements of classical, pop, New Age and jazz improvisations to form his own unique style.

In recent years, he has been introducing his own soothing and elegant interpretations of Asian musical styles into his music.

For the Shanghai shows, Maljean will take the listener on a journey of immense beauty and peace through ancient Kunqu Opera.

He will fuse East and West to create jazz music which perfectly matches Zhang's singing of excerpts from "The Peony Pavilion," "The Story of the Jade Hairpin" and "The Palace of Eternal Youth."

"I will also bring my own music to this concert," Maljean says. "We are trying to make the show a fun and unique experience."

Maljean's piano solos will include "Funny Face" and Chinese folk song "Jasmine Flower."

The concert will be a breakthrough for the 600-year-old traditional Chinese opera, which originated in Kunshan, neighboring Jiangsu Province, in that it is set to attract both a young and Western audience.

This opera form was listed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage in 2001 and is considered the progenitor of many traditional forms of Chinese operas.

For Western audiences, this ancient yet elegant art form is best characterized by the slow rhythmic and gentle movements that accompany the haunting melodies.

"The accompanying jazz will ease the listeners' journey through the kingdom of Kunqu Opera," says singer Zhang.

The concert actually is not the first to merge traditional Chinese theater with Western music.

Last month, students of Fudan University enjoyed traditional Chinese opera "Romance of the West Chamber" given by visiting students from the National University of Singapore. The familiar tunes of English pop music, from Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle" to Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha," were applied to classic Chinese operas.

According to Associate Professor Grant Shen, director of the performance of the Singaporean university, traditional operas were never meant to be "museum pieces." The music was always contemporary - in-synch with the era in which it was performed. The opera was very much like a rock concert is today.

"Unfortunately, with the passage of time, the opera seems to many today to be just a lot of screaming and noise," Shen says.

He was proud that when the show was staged in Singapore, it traversed boundaries of age, with 85 percent of the audience made up of young people.

Professor Sun Huizhu from Shanghai Theater Academy is in favor of this new trend of combining traditional Chinese opera with modern music.

"We need a way to connect with the younger generation, even though it can be quite hard work," he says. "This new performing style will make the form more attractive to the young and reduce their prejudice against traditional operas."

Maljean and Zhang's concert will also be filmed. All proceeds from the sale of the film will go to the Sichuan earthquake relief work. The DVD will be released all over the world.

"When Jazz Meets Kunqu Opera"

Date: July 11-12, 7:30pm

Venue: He Luting Concert Hall, Shanghai Conservatory of Music, 20 Fenyang Rd

Tickets: 80-580 yuan

Tel: 5258-3600

(Shanghai Daily June 16, 2008)

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