Since its inception nine years ago the Stanford Pan-Asian Music Festival has consistently showcased the finest in Asian musical traditions, bringing new music, performing techniques, and culture to enthusiastic Bay Area audiences.
The 2012 festival focused on Asian zither music from China, Korea and Japan to critical acclaim. The 2013 festival builds on this foundation by inviting the prestigious China National Orchestra to Stanford to share its unparalleled artistry.
The CNO was founded in 1960 and was deliberately modeled after a Western-style symphony orchestra and intended to demonstrate the virtues of Chinese musical instruments and the power of China’s own “national music.” The CNO has performed in more than fifty countries and worked with many renowned musicians the world over.
The opening concert of the festival called Masters and Masterpieces introduced rare Chinese musical instruments to the audience and prize-winning performers who are at the top of their class.
The program began quietly with a solo on the rarely heard Kong hou, the Chinese harp. Somewhat analogous to the western harp, the kong hu also has significant differences. These include two courses of stings cascading down each side of the body and the ability to bend notes on the fly.
Three Variations on the Plum Blossoms for solo kong hu was gracefully played by Wu Lin, herself a beautiful presence on the instrument.
The first half was rounded out by High Moon for the solo 21 string zither called “Guzheng”, the famous Er-quan Spring Reflects the Moon for solo erhu (fiddle) with yangchin (hammer dulcimer) accompaniment, and the fiery “Ambush on all Sides” deftly played by award-winning Zhao Cong on the pipa, (lute).
“Ambush on all Sides” was an intensely dramatic piece that describes through musical narrative the battle between the Chu and Han armies in 202 B.C. It was impressive to see Zhao Cong dressed in bright red silk play the composition with all its complex rapid fire passages with such virtuosic skill and finesse.
The second half of the concert introduced the full resources of the 90 piece orchestra. Two notable compositions stand out: Yunan Memories, a zhangruan concerto by Liu Wenjin and Full Moon in the Empty Mountain that featured the sublime dizi flute playing of Wang Cheng.
The zhangruan is coloqually referred as “moon lute” due to its large round body that resembles the full moon. Yunan memories, is a modern composition composed in the 1980’s by Liu Wenjin. It describes through music the composer’s impressions of Yunnan Province. It calls on the full resources of the orchestra with sweeping passages in the strings and winds alternating with dynamic riffing by soloist Wei Yuru on the ruan.
The composition made nice use of dynamics that built into a driving conclusion that was pure excitement. There are not enough words to describe the magnificence of Wei Yuru’s ruan playing on this piece which was full of fervor and drive, a true marvel to behold.
By contrast Full Moon in the Empty Mountain was reflective and sublime. Dizi bamboo flute soloist Wang Ciheng was an august presence on stage dressed in a long flowing, deep blue robe. He played the dizi with great soul and depth of feeling. The composition was very picturesque, one could easily imagine the majesty of the moon against the dark backdrop of the night sky and contemplate on the awe inspiring aspects of nature through the mellow timbre of the flute and the expansive moonbeam tones emanating from the orchestra.
The concert continued with more exceptional music and excitement from the audience was high. Loud enthusiastic applause and multiple standing ovations kept the orchestra from leaving until several encores were played including the lively and popular “Bejing Happiness”.
The audience was buzzing with anticipation for the final major concert of the festival: The Chinese New Year’s concert, ushering in the Year of the Snake.