Even business readers will want to read this piece on music – because that’s not what it’s entirely about.
Lang Lang ????, the 22 year old Chinese pianist-sensation, performed here in New York over this past weekend. As much as half of the audience was of Chinese descent, as one could clearly tell by the Mandarin and Cantonese spoken by the crowds loitering in the lobby and then surging up the stairs.
The brilliant performance — some said the orchestra was rather a bit too loud – was greeted by listeners who gave the performers an enthusiastic standing ovation. One might temper this with the comment that Americans, unfortunately, give just about everyone a standing “O;” but Chinese don’t. [The New York Times article is archived and must be purchased.]
Other than an extraordinary expression of artistry and beauty, this concert was most assuredly a statement of arrival and of pride. “We, Chinese, have made it: we have met the westerners on their ground and on their terms. And we will show them the glory of Chinese culture as well.”
Western and Chinese music was played on the same program: Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninoff as well as the traditional songs of Blind A-bing (????). I will posit that Yu Long (??), the CPO’s artistic director, wished to display the orchestra’s command over portions of the classical western repertoire; to please his Chinese audience with traditional favorites; and to educate his western audience by displaying what Chinese consider to be the grandeur of a Chinese musical heritage unknown in the west. Indeed, a success on all counts.
But perhaps they went a bit too far.
Auf vs.Von: Like a Fake Louis Vuitton Handbag?
Accompanied by the China Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO), the virtuoso premiered “Das Lied auf der Erde” [The Song From the Earth], composed by Ye Xiaogang. Those who listen to Mahler will at once notice the similarity in name to “Das Lied von der Erde” [The Song Of the Earth], lieder which set Tang dynasty poetry to music.
[For those of you who wish to learn more about Mahler, I would recommend friend and fine writer David Hurwitz’s book and CD entitled, The Mahler Symphonies: An Owner's Manual.]
The management company of the CPO notes that
…at the suggestion of Yu Long, music director of China Philharmonic Orchestra, composer Xiao Gang Ye was commissioned to create this Chinese version of The Song of the Earth. Gustav Mahler’s The Song of the Earth, or Das Lied von der Erde, is an irreplaceable masterpiece. Instead, The Song from the Earth, or Das Lied auf der Erde, reflects a different geographic and cultural background. The dawn of this ambitious re-creation, just like New China, signals the foundation of a symphony culture for China and its auspicious future.”
A copy with minor changes, much like a deluxe fake bag remade in the image of luxury parent? Not at all — although one is forced to consider such an unfortunate idea.
The creation of Ye Xiaogang’s piece is a statement that China intends to reclaim itself from the mind of the West, to re-create itself as it wishes. However, its target, in this case, was merely a harmless and delightful fancy in the mind of an imaginative western musician.
From the point of view of the non-Chinese audience, was such a statement necessary or even worthwhile? It was probably not even understood.
For Chinese, that the statement involves a re-creation of a western piece points up the extraordinary value the Chinese artists and the audience place on Things Western. “We have arrived – the West must stand up and take notice – and we are taking back what is ours.”
RECLAMATION: A MAJOR IDEA IN CHINESE LIFE
Reclamation from the West is a major topic for modern Chinese: antiques held in western collections, a demand for repayment of moneys allegedly stolen by an American business in the first half of this century, of China’s place in the world as a major business and political power [search Google for ?????? and read the Chinese language bulletin boards].
This lifetime student of China respectfully suggests: Chinese must learn what is and what is not theirs to reclaim — what is and what is not important to reclaim. As Chinese wend their way into the international community, the increasing friction generated by their demands may produce a clamor that exceeds the splendor of the music they so well express.
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