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About the Author
Ken Smith currently divides his time between New York (where he writes for Gramophone magazine) and Hong Kong (where he serves as the Asian–performing arts critic for the Financial Times). He is Co–Music Director of the recordings Dong Folk Songs and Miao Music for China's MediaFusion Group, and he won an ASCAP–Deems Taylor Award in 2008 for his liner notes to Gil Shaham's recording of The Butterfly Lovers Concerto for Violin. Ken is also the author of Fate! Luck! Chance!, published in 2008 by Chronicle Books.

Ancient Paths, Modern Voices Blog

Ancient Dance, Modern Anthem

Fashionably dressed in a black velvet jacket, Li Shaosheng did not look out of place beneath Joyce Theater’s shining marquee last night. In town for tonight’s premiere of his latest piece, he was taking some time off from rehearsal to see another, older side of the Carnegie Festival.

On the stage inside, the Taiwanese Han Tang Yuefu Music and Dance Ensemble enacted two hours of historically-inflected dances and sung drama based around the styles of the Han and Tang dynasties. The music and dancers repeated patterns, subtly changing each time. Li, who studies composition at Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music, seemed to appreciate the performance despite his extenuating circumstances: jet-lag, and a daylong rehearsal for his big premiere. “It’s quite traditional,” said a visibly fatigued Li. Many modern composition students on the mainland today don’t get an in-depth education in traditional musical styles; “we all know that Taiwan has preserved its culture very well,” added Li. Everything was restrained, subtle, with nuances brought out through endless repetitions with slight differences.

Li’s piece tonight will be different: “It’s an anthem, about 15 minutes,” he explained on the 1 train back up to Juilliard, where he’s staying in the dorms. “They commissioned it in February, and I wrote it in August”—not quite as long and storied as the two-millennia history behind the nanguan music he had just seen, but something to think about when you see the New Juilliard Ensemble show tonight.

Posted by Nick Frisch, 2009–2010 Fulbright Fellow researching classical music developments in China

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