Swiss orchestra celebrates Chinese composer's work

Updated: 2015-03-23 08:01

By Chen Jie(China Daily)

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 Swiss orchestra celebrates Chinese composer's work

Dennis Russell Davies (right) will lead the Basel Symphony Orchestra to perform pieces by Chinese composer Chen Yi (left) in Beijing and Shanghai. Photos Provided To China Daily

The Basel Symphony Orchestra of Switzerland will tour China with two concerts in Beijing and Shanghai this week. Under the baton of its chief conductor Dennis Russell Davies, the orchestra will perform Mozart, Beethoven and Stravinsky classics plus Chinese composer Chen Yi's Ge Xu Antiphony.

In an e-mail interview, the US-based Chen said, the US conductor Davies had supported her throughout her professional career. He was the first foreign conductor to commission her to write a piano concerto, when he was the music director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra in New York.

Chen's doctoral dissertation work at Columbia University, a piano concerto, was premiered by Davies and the Brooklyn orchestra in 1994, and was subsequently performed in Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center by other orchestras.

"He knew my music from hearing my Symphony No 1 when the China Youth Symphony toured Europe in 1987. He was then the music director of Bonn Symphony Orchestra," says the Chinese composer, 61.

Davies also gave a New York premiere of Chen's Symphony No 2 with the American Composers Orchestra, which he led as its music director in 1995.

Davies and Chen are both members of the Artist Advisory Board of the American Composers Orchestra, which supports new music and other composers. They organized a Chinese Music Festival when he invited Chen to bring a Chinese traditional instrumental ensemble to perform with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra in Germany.

Later, Chen was also commissioned to write a saxophone quartet concerto for the orchestra and a double piano work for Davies to perform in Germany, California and New York's Lincoln Center Festival.

"Davies is really a strong advocate for new music and young composers. I respect him with deep admiration and gratitude. I was so excited to learn that he will bring my Ge Xu with the Basel Symphony Orchestra to China. The piece is full of energy, freshness, in strong Chinese folk style," Chen says.

"I think the piece is most appropriate to perform in Beijing and Shanghai in such a beautiful spring."

Commissioned by the Women's Philharmonic, San Francisco, during Chen's residency in 1993, the piece was premiered in January 1995.

In the early 1980s, Chen, then a student at the China Central Conservatory of Music, visited Southwest China's ethnic regions to collect folk music. She found that to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival, Zhuang ethnic people often gathered in fields and sang songs in solo, choir or antiphonal forms.

In the antiphonal singing, distinct groups or individuals make up the texts in the style of antithetical couplets, simulating a competition between the two.

The vivid scenes inspired her to write music for keeping people in high spirits. The pitch and rhythms in the piece are taken from folk songs and dance music of Zhuang, Miao, Yi and Bouyei ethnic groups.

The Guangzhou-born Chen is a prolific composer who is good at blending Chinese and Western traditions, transcending cultural and musical boundaries. Now she has the distinguished professor chair at the Conservatory of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and is the recipient of the prestigious Charles Ives Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

With a history of near 140 years, Basel Symphony Orchestra is one of Europe's oldest orchestras.

"Though Switzerland has no such famous musicians as Mozart and Beethoven, it has many world-class orchestras because of its well-developed economy and education system," says Wu Jiatong, CEO of Wu Promotion, which presented Basel Symphony Orchestra in China in 2004 and 2010. "And compared to Berlin or Vienna, Basel is more famous for debuting modern works."

(China Daily USA 03/23/2015 page9)