World-renowned musicians Zhao Jiazhen and the Ba Da Chui performed traditional Chinese music in front of a packed crowd in the Concert Hall. The concert, which took place on Feb 12, featured 10 pieces that ranged from the subtle beauty of the guqin to the bold beats of large wooden drums and woodblocks.
Zhao Jiazhen, one of the most well-known players of the guqin (an ancient Chinese seven-stringed zither), has performed for a number of American presidents, including Barack Obama during his visit to China. She has also lent her musical talents to the soundtracks of such films as Red Cliff, “The History of the Three Kingdoms,” “Dream of the Red Chamber,” “Fire on Yuanming Yuan” and “Wu Ze Tian.” The New York Times heralded her recent Carnegie Hall performance by saying, “Zhao is a world-class musical artist!”
She has toured the United States, Europe, Japan, and Hong Kong, and has performed as a soloist with orchestras from Europe and Asia. Currently, Zhao is professor of Guqin in the Traditional Music Department of “one of China’s top music conservatory,” the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.
The Ba Da Chui, whose name means “eight great hammers,” are a percussion quartet of state professionals who also hail from China. The four members use drums, cymbals, gongs and woodblocks to play arrangements of regional percussion pieces that range from playful and lighthearted to powerful and fearsome.
The Ba Da Chui is composed of Wang Jianhua of the Central Conservatory of Music, Li Congnong of the Central Opera Theatre, and Tian Xin and Ma Li of the China Broadcasting Chinese. In 2001 and 2002, the quartet “represented China at the New Year’s Concert in the Vienna Golden Hall in Austria and performed in the main hall of the United Nations Headquarters.” In October 2009, they performed at Carnegie Hall in the Musical Journeys Through China Series.
Like Zhao, the Ba Da Chui use their instruments to tell stories and paint portraits of beautiful scenes in nature. Where Zhao may use her guqin to illustrate “Flowing Water” (the title of the first piece she played at Carleton), the Ba Da Chui use their percussion to describe an ox fighting a tiger. When playing “Ox Fighting Tiger,” the members of Ba Da Chui become one with their instruments and don’t constrain themselves by simply playing them. They incorporate the movements of their bodies with the rhythm to help the audience visualize the action and engage in the drama of the encounter.
Similarly, with the piece “Squabbling Ducks,” the quartet made use of symbols and other instruments to depict “lively scenes as ducklings play and bicker.” The artists create squawking dialogue between the ducklings as they waddle and roam about, as one would imagine of typical ducklings. Every piece had an accompanying story that added to its depth as a work of art.
The Concert Hall performance featured ten separate pieces that each offered a unique auditory experience. The wide variety of instruments and musical themes made the performances of the Ba Da Chui and guqin master Zhao Jiazhen a truly unforgettable event.