Chinese composer Guo Wenjing [File Photo: gudian123.cn]
Guo Wenjing is a composer who lives in China. His work has been taken abroad many times to amaze international audiences. The New York Times once claimed that he is the only world-renowned Chinese musician who never settled down in a foreign country. Today, our reporter Zhao Yang will tell us the story of Guo Wenjing and his music.
You are listening to "Shu Dao Nan", or literally the "Sichuan Road", composed by Guo Wenjing in 1990s. He was inspired by a poem with the same name written 1,000 years ago by the famous poet Li Bai. The poem describes the precipitous and steep roads in the mountainous Sichuan area.
Born in Chongqing city in Sichuan area in 1950s, Guo Wenjing has a deep feeling for his hometown. Besides "Shu Dao Nan", most of his early works are also related to Sichuan, like the concerto "Desolated Mountain" and "Symphony Suspended Coffins on the Cliffs in Sichuan". Though these music works are all named after typical Sichuan sceneries, Guo Wenjing explains what he wanted to express.
"Actually, my music is about Sichuan people rather than Sichuan landscapes. They depict the stubborn spirit of the residents there and my love for my hometown."
Guo Wenjing's fondness for music was cultivated in childhood. At that time, China was suffering social unrest caused by the Cultural Revolution. To ensure little Guo Wenjing's safety, his parents bought him a violin at age 12 to keep him at home. Guo Wenjing gradually understood the charm of music and a few years later, became a professional musician in a local art troupe in Chongqing. There he was attracted by the Russian composer Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich's 11th symphony.
"In his 11th symphony, there is a song about the revolution in Warsaw. It is amazing. When you listen to it, you can immediately picture a scene of the soldiers marching in your mind. The song is very easy to understand. So I decided to be a composer and express my thoughts through music."
In 1978, Guo Wenjing was taken on by the Central Conservatory of Music and began to learn music systematically. In 1982, he handed in a symphony called "Suspended Coffins on the Cliffs in Sichuan" as his graduation work. And when the symphony made its debut in America, it received great feedback.
After graduation, many students in his class including famous musician Tan Dun, went abroad for further study or development. Years later, some of them settled down in foreign countries while others came home with pioneering ideas for music. They went on to become leaders in the many fields of Chinese music. But Guo Wenjing returned to his hometown to compose music.
In 1992, Guo Wenjing took his chamber music "She Huo" to a concert in Amsterdam. After listening to the 12-minute work, local conductors and musicians decided to commission him an opera.
"They thought I was capable of writing operas. At that time, they had only listened to that chamber music. But they were right, because I found I was really good at it. I wrote 'Diary of a Madman', which was a big success."
"Diary of a Madman" was originally a novel of famous writer Lu Xun. It tells the story of how a scholar with a strong spirit broke away from feudal society. With high-pitched tones, Guo Wenjing vividly described the madness of the role.
What made Guo Wenjing even more proud was that "Diary of a Madman" became the first opera in which European actors all performed in Chinese. He explains it is a tradition in Western countries that performers have to sing in the same language the writer used.
"Mozart wrote in Germany, so artists all over the world performed his opera in German. This is common sense, for composers create their operas according to the unique rhythm of their native language. It would be strange if those songs were sung in different languages. So when I wrote 'Diary of a Madman', European actors had no choice but to learn Chinese."
The debut of "Diary of Madman" in Holland stunned European audiences. Another 7 countries revised the opera into different versions, and this is a record never broken by any other Chinese composer.
By 1997, Guo Wenjing finished his representative work "The Poet Li Bai". The opera tells the story of Li Bai after he was degraded by the court and went back to his hometown in Sichuan. Guo Wenjing was attracted by Li Bai's poems and admired his talent. He personified wine, poems and moon as the three friends of Li Bai. By describing the affection and controversies of these friends, Guo Wenjing explained what was important to Li Bai.
"If I was Li Bai, moon represents females, wine means friends, and poems are less important than both. Actually, the play is a monologue of Li Bai. Wine, moon and poems are all parts of his life."
Guo Wenjing combines traditional Chinese music with western elements. Bamboo flutes, gongs and drums are used harmoniously with orchestral instruments. There is an aria so popular that staff members in the opera troupe used to hum it during rehearsal. Guo Wenjing knew that making the melodies easy to understand and remember was every important.
"Li Bai liked to demonstrate profound meanings through simple words. I hope my music can do the same. After audiences listen to my opera, they should not only think about the music, but themselves, their lives and their destinies."
"The Poet Li Bai" has drawn worldwide attention. It was performed in America 6 times, and brought comments that it has the potential to be a classic.
Guo Wenjing also contributed to the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony with a program called "Movable-Type Printing". Actors dressed in traditional Chinese costumes read the "Analects of Confucius."
"I think that show is amazing. When those actors read the article together, I was deeply moved. I had never noticed how beautiful our mother tone is. The following music was also melodious."
Guo Wenjing still follows his dream and has resisted attempts to commercialize his operas. In his own words, he writes music according to his interests and never worries about criticism. This attitude is what he believes has helped his career develop so quickly.