On the evening of February 15, a historic concert took place in Berkeley. Simply titled "Cross Cultural Concert", it brought some of the finest Bay Area musicians together for a sharing of Chinese and Irish musical traditions.
The performers were Diana Rowan on the Irish harp, and piano. Winnie Wong was featured on the 21 string Chinese zither called "guzheng", and they were joined by Colm 'O Rain on violin.
The concert was sponsored by the Garden Gate Creativity Center as part of their 2013 Lunar New Year extravaganza. The room was warm and intimate with seating for a small crowd and live room acoustics that brought out the best of the instruments.
On the surface it would seem that Irish and Chinese musical and cultural traditions would not intersect or have anything to do with each other. However, the collaboration between these performers showed otherwise. In particular the Irish harp and the Chinese guzheng sounded like old siblings who had been apart for a long time only to be re-united again and closer than ever.
The tremolo playing effects and Asian pitch bends on the guzheng meshed seamlessly with the cascading glissandos and shimmering crystaline sound of the Irish harp nicely. Combined with the lines of the Irish fiddle weaving through the sonic fabric it made for a true aural delight.
Program highlights included an Irish Medley, "Danny Boy, Fig for Kiss and Butterfly Jig" and "Eternal Sorrow of Lin An" by Winnie Wong (guzheng) and Diana Rowan (piano).
While traveling in Bulgaria, harpist Diana Rowan was inspired by a concert for two Japanese kotos which inspired her to write a piece for solo harp called "Tidal" which she shared during the evenings performances.
The second half began with a solo guzheng composition "Dance of the Yi tribe" admirably played by Winnie Wong.
Rainbows was another theme of the evening. A beautiful duet of David Arlan's Somewhere over the Rainbow for violin and piano transitioned into "The Lament of Rainbow Cloud".
“The Lament of Rainbow Cloud” was truly a gem and one of the concert’s highlights. It featured Winnie Wong as guzheng soloist accompanied by Diana Rowan on piano.
The song is based on an old Tang Dynasty Poem “Song of Lasting Sorrow” which describes the tragic love story between an emperor who is forced to order the execution of his beloved concubine. Thus the composition has the feel of both tenderness and loss creating a mood that is at once sorrowful and touching.
Winnie Wong’s playing was truly impassioned on “Lament of Rainbow Cloud”. Filled with emotion, she made the guzheng truly weep. Diana Rowan complemented the ethos of the piece perfectly with her dramatic piano style. The piano and guzheng worked marvelously together bringing the composition to life.
The concert ended in a traditional way with the trio playing a set of Irish slip jigs. The performers had a problem though because the audience didn't want them to stop playing! So they did a really jammin' version of "Eye of the Tiger" as an encore where Colm O' Rain really stretched out on violin underpinned by the guzheng, piano, and harp that created an ethno-thump rhythm section which really brought down the house!
Overall the intersection of Chinese and Irish music was a complete success and it is hoped that the performers will continue to explore it, by building the reporatore and making recordings. It was clearly evident that the performers put together something truly unique and special that should be nurtured and expanded.
The Garden Gate Creativity Center, located in a historic firehouse in the Clairmont section of Berkeley sponsors concerts, lessons and workshops on an ongoing basis. See their schedule for details.
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