Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall, Music from China took the stage to kick off the Music Department’s World Music Series. Founded fifteen years ago by Susan Cheng, the group, which includes several acclaimed Chinese musicians, introduced the Williams audience to the huqin, the dizi, the yangqin, the pipa, the daruan and the zheng.
Touring throughout the East Coast since 1984, Music from China has performed everywhere from the Peabody Conservatory to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Lincoln Center. Headquartered in New York City, Wang Guowei, Chen Tao, Helen Yee, Zhou Yi and Cheng, the musicians currently comprising Music from China, perform both traditional Chinese music and music written by contemporary Chinese composers. In addition to playing concerts, the group sponsors an education program that offers group workshops, music lessons and lecture-demonstrations for school-aged children in order to educate interested people about Chinese music.
Playing to a full but not crowded Brooks-Rogers, Music from China, whose repertoire comprises a varied selection of regional folk music and Cantonese opera, opened the concert with the traditional song “Sanliu,” from Suzhou. Sanliu, or three-six, describes the repetition in the song’s format. A melodic passage debuted in the song’s introduction and then was repeated in the rhythmic refrain that separated each of the verses.
The second song Music from China performed was entitled “Birds in the Forest.” Featuring Wang on the gaohu, a two-stringed instrument somewhat resembling the violin, “Birds” pays tribute to nature. In the light-hearted 1930s-era, Cantonese piece, the gaohu chirped away with as much musicality and joy as robins on the first day of spring. Continuing with this avian theme, Chen Tao played “Partridges in Flight,” a Henan folk song arranged by Lu Chunling. Chen’s solo on the dizi, a reed flute, was one of the highlights of the night’s concert. The lilting melody flitted and fluttered until finally reaching the higher range of the Chinese music scale. As the name implies, the song describes the graceful flight of the partridge as it soars higher and higher into the sky. Like their namesake, the notes, played by Chen’s skilled hand, soared and then fell quiet and still before taking flight again. Following Chen’s solo, the five instrumentalists took the stage together to perform the soft and somber “The Moon Reflected in the Erquan Pool.”
Changing pace and displaying the diversity of their repertoire, Music from China continued with the fast-tempoed “Mongolian Horse Race.” One of the few pieces the group performed, it strayed from the nature theme visited in songs from each of the other genres represented. Closing the first half of 90 minute concert, the instrumentalists played a rather repetitive, ten-minute classical piece that featured the pipa and zheng.
The second half of the concert featured an assortment of songs, which were for the most part more lively than those played in the earlier set. “San Wu Qi” was performed on the bangdi, a short bamboo flute popular in northern China. Although a completely instrumental piece, “San Wu Qi” produced the effect of a voice singing a selection from a Zhejiang opera. The concert concluded with the Music from China musicians performing three traditional folk songs from southern China.
After the concert, the audience was invited to a reception, featuring assorted Chinese hors d’oeuvres including spring rolls and dumplings. During the reception, the performers were on hand to answer questions from interested audience members about Music from China.
Enthusiastically received, the Music from China concert was the first installment in the music department’s World Music Series. If the success of the Music from China concert can serve as a gauge of positive things to come, then the campus community should eagerly await future installments of this series.