Symphonic Peking Opera Delights Opera Fans

Violins, Oboes and Peking Opera seems to be a strange combination, but the successful integration of a symphony orchestra and Peking Opera delighted the audience in Beijing, the home of the traditional Chinese opera.

Invited by the Chinese Ministry of Culture, the University of Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra from the United States is here as part of the "Meet in Beijing" Arts Festival. The orchestra accompanied Chinese artist Sun Ping singing three modern pieces of Peking Opera last Sunday evening.

Professor Zheng Xiaoyun, director of Center for Arts Education of Tsinghua University, said, "It's wonderful that foreigners are able to understand and demonstrate traditional Chinese culture. I believe the attempt will help develop Peking Opera in modern times."

In fact, Chinese tried performing the opera with western instruments during the period of the 1960s and 1970s and the symphony orchestra-accompanied Peking Opera prevailed for a decade. But the kind of opera gave way to traditional performance of the opera in the following two decades.

Encouraged by former Chinese ambassador to the United States Li Zhaoxing, the Peking Opera Artist Sun Ping started collaborating with the University of Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra in 2000.

To her great surprise, the performer who has been engaged in Peking Opera for 30 years discovered that the oboe was able to take the place of the Jinghu, major instruments in the opera.

Ricardo Averbach, conductor of the Symphony Orchestra, said that Peking Opera is unique in form and the singer is always free to change tempo, which challenges orchestra members to play at the same speed.

"Sometimes, I have to give up following the music score but follow Sun's tone in her singing," he said. "It's almost incredible for a symphony orchestra."

After three months of rehearsals, the orchestra made their debut in Philadelphia on March 29 and the performance turned out to be a complete success.

Averbach said that it is the first time in the century-long history of the university orchestra that it has combined with the Chinese musical form.

"I'm trying to do this hoping to learn more about the prime Chinese art," said Averbach, who added the Jinghu and Pipa, two traditional Chinese musical instruments, to the performance in Beijing to make more authentic Peking Opera.

Henry A. Kissinger, former US secretary of State, sent a letter to the University of Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra, saying, "You have already made a valuable contribution to the enjoyment and appreciation of China's great musical tradition by presenting an acclaimed program earlier this spring that integrated classical Western music with that of the Peking Opera. "

"As a music lover and believer in cross-cultural exchange and understanding as a significant factor in the resolution of tensions among nations, I applaud this important step you have taken," Kissinger said in the letter.

Averbach hopes to devote himself to developing the two art forms into a new one in a couple of years. "The final goal is to create big interest in the western world. When Peking Opera is more accessible, western audiences will go back to the roots of the traditional Chinese art."

Sun Ping said that she and the university orchestra will start working on the symphonic Peking Opera musical "Butterfly Lovers". The music will be jointly written by composers from China and the United States.

(People’s Daily 05/28/2001)

In This Series

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Peking Opera Show Staged to Remember Late Performer

Opera's Soaring Success at Theater



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