From 5 strings during the Warring States Period (475 BC) to 13 strings in the Tang Dynasty (618 AD);
From the modern 16 strings to the current 21 strings;
From oral instructions and memorizations to recorded scores;
From solos to duets, accompaniments, and ensembles;
From standardized curriculum to professional certifications;
From the China proper to every corner of the world;
In the past 2500 years, guzheng, one of the most ancient Chinese musical instruments, has undergone such earthshaking transformations!
In China, during the past decade, waves after waves of young performers have emerged, along with brand-new guzheng compositions. These young performers are, with astonishing speed, breaking new grounds from the traditional performing techniques. And these new compositions, which embody the unique sound, timbre and form of guzheng, are now being presented on the stages in China and abroad!
When you see a group of young people in their 20's perform together with a 60-member Western orchestra in perfect harmony;
When you learn these young performers and composers have repeatedly won top prizes in musical competitions in China and internationally;
When you realize they are, with their dogged determination and setting their sights on the whole world, constantly tweaking and creating, in an endeavor to bring guzheng, an ancient instrument, into the hallowed halls of modern global music;
I, as a professional musician dedicated to promoting guzheng for almost 60 years, feel a tremendous sense of pride and relief. Guzheng, a crown jewel amidst the splendors of Chinese culture, will live on!
Thanks to the generous sponsorship of my old friend Judy Ying, we are fortunate to have Liu Le, an outstanding young guzheng performer from Shanghai, join us in our 29th Annual Concert. His appearance will allow the members of our Society and music lovers in the Bay Area to get to know such a rising star, and will enable the audience to understand what new guzheng sound is all about. Another outcome is, as Liu Le himself wishes, that everyone will, through his total immersion in his music and on-stage persona, appreciate the different nuances and subtleties in the realm of music.
In the concert today, besides the solo performances of Liu Le, we will have group performances by our veterans and the Golden Flowers. Liu Le will also perform jointly with the Purple Orchids and the Jasmines Groups of our Society. What a symbol of Sino-U.S. cooperation! This adds so much significance to the concert today despite the modest venue.
The late Master Cao Zheng, my teacher, said 40 years ago, "Let nine styles of guzheng flourish in China, all guzheng lovers under the sky are one family." I hope that his vision can, through the diligent effort of the guzheng lovers of our generation, reach reality and beyond.
Best wishes to all the performers!
San Francisco Guzheng Music Society
Battling the Typhoon
The rapid beats, dynamic movements, and deafening intensity in this piece express the indomitable spirits of the dock workers in their battle against the menacing typhoon. It is an outstanding guzheng composition from the 1960's. Weishan Liu and Liu Le will join in this group performance. Moral: All guzheng lovers under the sky are one family.
Notation by Cao Zheng
This is an old tune from the Henan Province which conveys a strong sense of the affinity to the land. Members of the "High Mountain Flowing Stream" have continually discussed and worked on this piece to utilize the strength of each member and to make it more contemporary. Weishan Liu and Liu Le will join the group in the performance. Moral: Perpetuate the tradition.
The composer tries to emulate portions of the harmony and tempo in Rite of Spring using playing techniques unique to guzheng. A simple "quick, slow, quick" pattern forms the basic overall rhythm. The quick tempo reflects the bustling atmosphere during the sacrificial offering ceremony, while the slow tempo portrays the melancholy of a young girl dancing alone. The non-traditional key fits nicely in the new harmony scheme, and adds a touch of the exotic. By playing the new sounds on guzheng, the Chinese traditional instrument, it exemplifies a fusion of cultures of East and West.
Chant of the Wind Chimes
The slow and solemn melody in this piece reminds one of quqin, and transports the audience to the peaceful environs of a Buddhist temple where the wispy smoke from the burning incense sticks slowly rises to the air, where one can hear the soothing chants coming from a distance…
Sleeve Dance Fantasies
The inspiration of this piece came from the Sleeve Dance, a Chinese classical folk dance. It utilizes the rhythm of the music in Tang Dynasty and a fluid musical style to mimic the different movements of the dance. At times with gusto, others femininity, the music aims to tell the different emotions of the dancer who is totally absorbed in her routine.
He Zhanhao & Chen Gang, arr. Guan Shengyou, notation for guzheng by Su Zhenbo
This piece is adapted from the famous Butterfly Lovers Concerto. The Golden Flowers will perform this in guzheng, accompanied by their longtime music partner, violinist Strauss Shi. They will try to relate the household story of two lovers – Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai – from a modern youth perspective through a combination of Chinese and Western musical instruments.
Colors of the Wind
Arr. Gu Guanren
This is the theme song for the Disney movie Pocahontas. The Society commissioned an adaptation specifically for the Golden Flowers, and this was completed by Gu Guanren, the famous composer and former head of the Shanghai National Music Ensemble. In recent years, the Golden Flowers have performed this piece to wide acclaim in the Bay Area.
Ballad of the Enchanting Lotus
This piece by Li Lei, a young composer from Shanghai, was specifically intended for guzheng solo by Liu Le. The varied and subtle movements evoke a charming picture of different light refractions off the glistening lotus blossoms, and which slowly spread to the lotus leaves and over the pond.
Vibrant Lights and Shadows
Arr. Liu Le
This piece attempts to weave together a dramatic show of lights and shadows through the unique sounds of the guzheng from the theme songs of many popular movies and TV shows in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It employs many traditional playing techniques and harmony principles, with some improvisation thrown in.
Random Thoughts on Exotic West
This piece was composed by Wang Jianmin in 1996 based on some elements of folk music in Xinjiang. The complex beats and quick-changing tempo are typical of the music in the Western territory. The quick plucking and percussion techniques, coupled with appropriate variations of power, tempo and feelings, illustrate the haunting beauty of the land and the festive scenes of the joyous people there.
Three Variations on Plum Blossom
Traditional, arr. Weishan Liu
This old classic was originally composed for the famed flutist Wang Huizhi by Huan Yi, a victorious general in the Feishui War during the Jin Dynasty (280 – 300 AD). It was adapted for guqin by Yan Shigu in the Tang Dynasty (618-881 AD). It is known for its forceful tempo and feisty melody. The version you will hear this afternoon is Weishan Liu's improvisation as co-performed with Liu Le.
Liu Le is a graduate student at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. He has been under the tutelage of Professor Wang Wei, the famed guzheng performer and educator. He was born in 1985 in Xiangtan, Hunan Province, China. He began studying guzheng at age 7 under teachers Li Minmin and Li Lei and first performed on stage at age 8. In 1998, he entered, as the top-ranked student, the auxiliary middle school of the Wuhan Music Institute, and studied guzheng from several experts such as Zhao Yi, Wang Ting, and Wang Yun. He won the top-level scholarship four times, and was admitted into the Conservatory without having to go through the examination process. While at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, he was awarded several scholarships and again went straight to graduate school without further qualification.
Liu Le has entered several competitions and won several prizes, including the "Golden Bell Award" which is the most prestigious music award in China, and the one-and-only "Contemporary Composition Performance Award."
Liu Le has been invited to perform with symphony orchestras all over the world, including those in France, Germany, Sweden, United States, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Singapore and Shanghai. He soloed the world premiere of at least 10 guzheng pieces by composers from China and abroad, including concertos such as "Deep Heart", "Ballad of the Enchanting Lotus"; and several symphonic concertos such as "Ouvertures", "Green Tea, Earthquakes and Unyielding Tenacity". In addition, he composed or arranged several guzheng pieces, such as "Sleeve Dance Fantasies", " Deep Courtyard – an Anthology", "Southward Dancer", and "Vibrant Lights and Shadows." Liu Le has visited many countries, participated in many international music festivals, lectured at many universities internationally, and has staged the only authorized solo concert in the program series at the famous"50th Anniversary of the Spring of Shanghai International Music Festival." Liu Le's expert skills and on-stage charisma are widely acclaimed in media coverage, and he himself has been interviewed by numerous radios, newspapers, and TV stations all over the world.
In performing guzheng, Liu Le's on-stage charisma is unique. He is masterful whether playing a forceful passage or when it calls for something sentimental. His music reflects a lot of his own personal touches, which makes it even more inspirational and captivating. His desire to incorporate the best of Chinese and Western music and to set his sights on the world stage, the disciplined teachings of his mentors, his thirst for knowledge and improvements, his diversified repertoire for his performance, have all combined to make Liu Le's guzheng performance better and better every day. While holding firm on maintaining traditions, he is also bringing in new concepts of the younger generation to the age-old guzheng, and thereby making him the cream of the crop of excellent young guzheng performers today.