Qu Xiaosong [photo: hudong.com]
In the past three decades, a group of Chinese pioneer composers like Qu Xiaosong, Liu Suola, Tan Dun and Guo Wenjing represented the great achievements of Chinese music after the reform and opening up policy was initiated.
Today, we're going to introduce to you one great composer, Qu Xiaosong, who was acclaimed by European critics as "a master of tense silence". Our reporter Yingying has the story.
The music you're hearing is a snatch from Qu Xiaosong's symphony NO.1. Qu Xiaosong was born in 1952 in southwestern Guizhou Province. At the age of 20, Qu taught himself the violin and became a violinist and violist with a Peking opera orchestra in his home town. He was matriculated at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing in 1978 and studied under Du Mingxin, one of China's most famous composers.
In 1989, Qu was invited by the US-based Columbia University to be a visiting scholar, supported by a grant from the Cultural Council. Following his work at Columbia, he settled in New York City and has been living there for ten years. These days, Qu's works are being staged around the world. He has been acclaimed by European critics as "a master of tense silence" due to his mysterious, oriental music style.
Qu Xiaosong is a musician who keeps on moving forward in his journey of musical exploration. He's never afraid to experiment with new elements, but at the same time, sticks to the principle of showing audiences the unvarnished side of music.
"Those engaging in art like innovating, especially after their 20s. However, no matter how innovative the methods they're employing, the most touching part of a music piece comes from its' purest core elements."
Besides composing chamber music, Qu Xiaosong also tried his hand in other music forms. The opera "Life on a String" was his exploration into opera music. It was adapted from a novel of the same name written by Chinese writer Shi Tiesheng. It tells the story of a young blind string player who was told by his teacher that he would get a prescription to treat his eyes when he broke his thousandth string. The player kept on practicing. However, the result was beyond his expectations. He only got a blank sheet in the end, but the struggle to get the prescription encouraged the blind player not to give up on life.
Qu Xiaosong considers "Life on a String" his own portraiture. He says his exploration of and experiments with music are simply him following his heart.
"A music piece I am satisfied with always comes straight from my heart. There's no standard technique in my composing process. I don't care whether other people like it or not."
Although known as the "Master of Silence" for his mysterious, oriental music style, Qu's firmed up his "silent" style when he was living in the noisy city of New York.
Qu Xiaosong tells the story of how he got the inspiration for his "silent" composition style.
One day, Qu happened to play a phrase at a very slow pace. He made the first tone sustain for five minutes and felt the effect was fantastic. Then he played the second tone in the same way after a long pause. He was impressed by the silent effect it created and suddenly realized it was the two tones that made him realize the value of silence.
However, some critics couldn't understand his concept. They thought the tones dragged on for too long and depressed listeners. In response, Qu Xiaosong says many experienced critics have a fixed idea of what music should be like.
"I think people should listen to my music without any expectations. If you expected something and didn't find it in my music, you'll feel depressed."
After ten years of living abroad, Qu Xiaosong finally returned to China. He says he always felt like a guest away from his homeland. Now he's been appointed as a professor in the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and has set up a workshop gathering talented young musicians to promote contemporary music in China.
That is Qu Xiaosong, a pioneering composer who grew up after China's reform and opening up policy was initiated. Here's hoping you enjoy the unique charms of silence in his music.
For Beyond Beijing. I'm Yingying.