Civ­i­tas Ensem­ble believes one of the best ways to bring cul­tures togeth­er, to make the world a more beau­ti­ful and inclu­sive place, is through music.

Last year, we col­lab­o­rat­ed with super­star vio­lin­ist Pavel Špor­cl and The Gip­sy Way Ensem­ble from the Czech Repub­lic in part to reduce the stig­ma around the Romani (oth­er­wise known as gyp­sy) cul­ture and the Roma peo­ple. The MacArthur Inter­na­tion­al Con­nec­tions fund­ed project instead ele­vat­ed Romani tra­di­tions and musi­cians. Ear­li­er this sea­son, we cel­e­brat­ed French and Czech com­posers who were influ­enced by Russ­ian com­posers in Paris to high­light the impor­tance of cross-cul­tur­al pol­li­na­tion with a pro­gram col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly designed with the Driehaus Muse­um in con­junc­tion with their L’Affichomania: The Pas­sion for French Posters exhib­it.

This win­ter, as we cel­e­brate the Year of the Dog, we’re excit­ed to bring audi­ences music from con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese com­posers that have been influ­enced by both East­ern and West­ern music to show audi­ences a range of ways in which these two cul­tures can come togeth­er musi­cal­ly.

In our con­certs on Feb­ru­ary 26 and March 4, we will per­form two pieces writ­ten by mod­ern Chi­nese com­posers — “Ema­na­tions of Tara” by Yao Chen and “Five Ele­ments” by Zhou Long. Both com­posers are known for cre­at­ing music that com­bines ele­ments of both West­ern and East­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties — per­haps because both were orig­i­nal­ly born in Chi­na but then spent time study­ing music in the Unit­ed States. 

Yao Chen was born in Chi­na and came to the Unit­ed States in 2001 at the age of 23, where he earned his Ph.D. in com­po­si­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go and lat­er taught at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois and Illi­nois State Uni­ver­si­ty. He now lives in Bei­jing.

After a long, dis­tin­guished edu­ca­tion in Chi­na learn­ing both clas­si­cal and tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese music, before and after the Cul­tur­al rev­o­lu­tion, Zhou earned a Doc­tor in Musi­cal Arts at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty. A cit­i­zen of the Unit­ed States, Zhou has taught and com­posed exten­sive­ly, and is the win­ner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his opera, Madame White Snake.

Both “Ema­na­tions of Tara” and “Five Ele­ments” use a com­bi­na­tion of West­ern instru­ments with the pipa, a tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese string instru­ment, to cre­ate a sound that is whol­ly unique. 

The pipa is also called the Chi­nese lute,” explains Yihan Chen, a well-known pipa play­er who will be play­ing the instru­ment at both con­certs. “It is held ver­ti­cal­ly, and I use my right hand fin­gers to pluck the strings out­ward to make a bright and clear sound. The pipa is a very expres­sive instru­ment. It can play very beau­ti­ful sounds and also can play some dra­mat­ic sound effects, which works well for new music.” Plans are also under way to record both pieces for a sec­ond album with Chicago’s Cedille Records are in the com­ing weeks.

Tick­ets for Feb­ru­ary 26 can be found here, and for March 4 here.


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