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UPDATED: July 26, 2015 NO. 6 FEBRUARY 5, 2015
Cultures in Concert
How a renowned composer and three of his protégés have sought to build a musical bridge between China and the United States
By Corrie Dosh

"When [the calligrapher] is doing that, he is really composing, and once he starts, there is no stopping. The rule is you never correct it. To me that's a fundamental difference in creative thinking between East and West," Chou said.

There is no question that the East and the West are coming closer together in artistic expression. We are at "the beginning of a new era," Chou said.

"It is my opinion that we will be much happier in the future if we understand the relationship between East and West," he said. "The next stage is for the two to come together and that's the reason why these composers are here."

To honor Professor Chou, the Talujon Percussion Quartet performed his haunting composition Echoes From the Gorge. The piece represents a summation of all of the concepts, both Eastern and Western, acquired and utilized by the composer throughout his career with Western percussion practices and an intrinsic structure comparable to Chinese ideograms, according to the program notes.

Using Western classical instruments, the Ying Quartet then performed Song of the Ch'in, from Zhou, and Chen's composition Shou. Concluding the performance was Maya Beiser--nicknamed the "cello goddess"--performing Tan's Feige (Flying Song).


The event was presented by the U.S.-China Cultural Institute and the Cultural Associate of the Committee of 100 at the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library. The program highlighted the contributions of Chinese American artists as part of a six-month, $2.8-million exhibit titled Chinese Americans: Exclusion/Inclusion, which explores the centuries-long history of trade and immigration between China and the United States.

The saga of Chinese Americans includes the building of the Transcontinental Railroad; the unprecedented immigration legislation known as the Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred most Chinese from entering the United States; and the Chinese American activists who used the American justice system to try to overturn the Exclusion Act. Future programs highlighting the contributions of ethnic Chinese artists include events featuring choreographer Shen Wei, opera singer Hao Jiang Tian and author Amy Tan.

Music is a symbol of the transition from exclusion to inclusion, said Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. Chinese music and American music have become closer, and now often blend together creating a new art form. Tan, with his modern interpretations rooted in classical Chinese music, is a perfect fit for the series.

"We are extremely pleased to have with us Tan Dun, a Chinese artist of such exceptional talent and renown. We are very excited to have attracted so many Chinese and Chinese American visitors to our institution interested in learning this important story," Mirrer said.

President of the U.S.-China Cultural Institute Shirley Young (Xue Lan Yang) said the exhibit highlights the stories of Chinese Americans' lives, achievements, culture and rich diversity.

"Chinese in America have experienced many hardships and challenges from the early days," Young said, "including the early Chinese laborers helping railway construction and laborers hoping to strike it rich in California's gold rush. This is a sad history and this history shaped American society. Starting in the 19th century, Chinese Americans resisted and protested discriminatory legislation, including the Exclusion Act."

Despite the hardships, Sino-U.S. relations have prospered, and the spirit of inclusion has triumphed, producing extraordinary individuals such as talented musicians Chou and Tan as well as many other specialists in different fields, Young said.

"Many Chinese people come to America for further education or business. And many Chinese elites such as Tan Dun bring their contributions to the United States," Young said. "These musicians' success shows part of Americans' inclusion, also a part of America's history."

The author is a contributing writer to Beijing Review, living in New York City

(Anqi Shen contributed to the story)

Email us at: yanwei@bjreview.com

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