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Guqin-piano Concert Celebrates Best of Both Worlds

Ancient Chinese heritage will meet classic Western expression tonight, as two guqin masters play their traditional stringed instruments alongside two accomplished pianists for the first time on the same stage.

The performance featuring piano and guqin, a seven-stringed instrument dating back at least 5,000 years to the origins of Chinese civilization, will be held at the Poly Theatre.

"Piano is one of the most expressive Western instruments, while guqin is revered as the 'king' of ancient Chinese instruments," said Yang Qing, secretary-general of Chinese Guqin Association, one of the organizers of the event. "So the concert is a special way to celebrate the event that guqin was listed as one of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on November 7, 2003."

Li Xiangting, 65, professor at the Central Conservatory of Music, and Gong Yi, 64, professor at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, have been active performers and innovators in recent years.

Both Li and Gong started learning guqin from virtuosos in the mid-1950s. Some critics have hailed them as the top guqin masters respectively in northern and southern China.

Li went to Britain to study music and give lectures about guqin at Cambridge and the University of London for five years beginning in 1989. But his experiments with improvising music started long before that.

Over the past few years, Li has published many CDs of his creative works. The trio pieces entitled Touches upon Tang Dynasty Poems (Tangren Shiyi), Touches upon Song Dynasty Ci Poems (Songren Ciyi) and Touches upon Yuan Dynasty Dramas (Yuanren Quyi) are especially attractive.

Like Li, Gong has also issued many CDs. His book Guqin Playing Method (Guqin Yanzoufa) is a perfect introduction for beginners.

The traditional music score of guqin is rather complicated, each character indicating the position and movements of both hands, yet without giving a hint about rhythm.

This recording method has led to many different schools of guqin across the country and the difficult art form that few people can master.

In Gong's book, he uses the staff and simplified symbols for finger moves to help the most amateur learners build a solid foundation.

Pianists Liu Shikun and Bao Huiqiao are also renowned Chinese artists who have won many international awards and taught numerous students. During the concert, each master will perform two pieces.

In addition to the renowned performers, 16 children dressed in traditional Chinese costumes will play guqin together and sing poems that ancient Chinese guqin players once sang to amuse themselves and their friends.

Then four teenagers will play guqin and piano together. Three guqin classic pieces, Intoxication (Jiu Kuang), Moon on Guanshan Mountain (Guanshan Yue) and Three Plum Blossom Melodies (Meihua Sannong), have been adapted to suit the piano.

Guqin will take the lead, with piano as accompaniment. With amplifier, the low sound of guqin will match with that of piano.

In such group performance, it is often difficult for players to freely express themselves. But the three pieces are very beautiful and it is an important chance to display the talents of the young guqin learners, said Yang.

Yang has been teaching students for many years, with the youngest being only 4 years old. "Children can concentrate better than adults. A child can start learning guqin at 3, but the training must be gradual to prevent inappropriate habits or hurting the fingers," said Yang.

The child players will send a clear message to the audience that ancient Chinese guqin music is gaining fresh blood, Yang said.

(China Daily December 19, 2005)

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