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Shanghai in A Minor by French Composers
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Last year, eight French composers were asked to write music about the city of Shanghai, blending traditional instruments and familiar melodies. Now, the project has come to fruition and their compositions will be revealed to the world in a special concert on Friday night.


At this time last year, eight French composers toured Shanghai as part of "Presences China" aiming to get foreign composers to write music about the port city. The only rule is that these pieces be composed using Chinese instruments and borrow strands from familiar melodies such as The Jasmine Flower.


The Shanghai Grand Theater will have the single honor of hosting the first performances of their pieces. Furthermore, invitations will be handed out at the concert to eight Scandinavian composers to take up the mantle.


The audience will decide the three most popular pieces, to be performed in France at the 2008 Festival Presences. Financial gain will also attract healthy competition with the top three being awarded US$25,000, US$17,500 and US$10,000 respectively.


"I've had this idea in mind for a long time," says France-based Chinese composer Chen Qigang, artistic director of the project.


Like many Chinese musicians, Chen departed to study overseas around 20 years ago to experience the Western civilizations he had long admired. "But as I looked at my own country from a distance, I gradually realized how distinctive my own culture was.


"Many Chinese musicians have won prizes in international competitions by playing Western compositions with Western instruments as judged by Western panels. However, these honors were more a result of careful study and exchanges. Could the reverse happen, with Western musicians learning more about Chinese music?” Chen asked.


Through this match, Western composers will come to truly understand the elements of Chinese classical music.


"They will promote Chinese music and culture to the world in the future," says Chen. "On the other hand it will give Chinese people an opportunity to look at our own culture from a new angle. I hope it will also arouse Chinese passion for the long-forgotten charm of traditional Chinese music.


Each of the eight French composers wrote a concerto relying on the erhu (two-stringed bowed instrument), suona (oboe) or both. They will be performed by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and other traditional Chinese musicians.


"Chinese culture is distant to me. But I saw a corner of Chinese culture during my short stay last year," says composer Guillaume Connesson, who wrote an erhu concerto inspired by the Yuyuan Garden. "When I returned to Paris, I was often steeped in a mood of Shanghai, with contrast being the pre-dominant emotion.”


"Shanghai is such a modern, dynamic city. However, I also some quiet, cultural and traditional places which seemed far removed from the hustle and bustle. I was imbued with the feeling of contrast in my composition," he adds.


(Shanghai Daily May 11, 2007)

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