Artists of Huayin Laoqiang rehearse at Shaanxi Opera House on June 30. They perform at a concert held on the west peak of Huashan Mountain on July 4. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Huashan Mountain in Shaanxi province is one of China's five most famous scenic mountains and is known for its steep and perilous peaks. On July 4, the Xi'an Symphony Orchestra held a concert on the mountain's west peak, at an altitude of about 2,000 meters. The concert was streamed live.
Titled XSO Meets Huashan Mountain Summit Clouds Rhapsody, the concert featured more than 200 musicians from the Xi'an Symphony Orchestra and its chorus under the baton of conductor Tang Muhai.
According to Cao Jiwen, branding director of the Xi'an Symphony Orchestra, all musical instruments were transported to the west peak by cable car.
"It's exciting to imagine musicians performing among a sea of cloud on the peak of Huashan Mountain. The audience can enjoy classical music with a stunning vista of nature," says Cao, adding that the idea of holding a concert on Huashan Mountain was suggested a year ago. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the concert had been postponed until July.
He notes that Huashan Mountain is also a holy site in Taoism and is associated with the birth and practice of traditional Chinese martial arts.
Therefore, the repertoires of the concert showcased the mountain's rich significance and local culture.
One of the highlights of the concert was the opening piece, which had musicians and the orchestra chorus perform with a local troupe of Huayin Laoqiang (Huayin ancient tune), a traditional folk song, titled Jiangling Yisheng Zhen Shanchuan (The General Commander's Order Shakes Mountains and Rivers).
Considered as the oldest version of rock-and-roll in China, Huayin Laoqiang was born in Huayin city, where Huashan Mountain is located. The traditional opera form is a genre developed from a folk storytelling art in Shaanxi province, crafted at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and early period of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in 2006.
In 2015, Chinese pop singer Tan Weiwei and five senior artists from a troupe of Huayin Laoqiang jointly performed on a TV show, which caused a sensation among viewers. The performance brought Huayin Laoqiang into the spotlight and attracted many audiences.
"When I was commissioned to adapt the piece, I was surprised and excited. It felt like a good cook having the best ingredients, which will give birth to a great dish," says composer Sun Chang, who adapted the old piece into a 3-minute-long work for the concert. "I didn't know much about Huayin Laoqiang, but when I read the material, I was impressed by its history and culture. The adaptation has to be loyal to their tradition and the combination of classical music and the ancient opera should be creative while preserving their distinctive features."
Tang Muhai, renowned conductor. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Graduating from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music with a master's degree in 2011, Sun, who is also a pianist, has been teaching at the university's conducting department since then. He has adapted lots of music pieces both from China and from the West, including Chinese folk songs, Jasmine Flower and Lion Dance, both staged at the Palace of Versailles in 2014 during a concert marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France.
"I have done lots of adaptations which mix Chinese and Western music pieces together. I used to combine two different music styles and minimize their differences. But now, I want to present their differences and to showcase their own styles," says Sun, adding that Western classical music is based on beat while the high-pitched and powerful Huayin Laoqiang is centered on the rhythm of local dialect. "The musicians of the orchestra and chorus look at the conductor but musicians of Huayin Laoqiang don't have to look at the conductor. They have their own rhythm."
Other music pieces staged during the concert included Chinese composer Zhao Jiping's Symphony No 1, Beethoven's Egmont Overture and composer Tan Dun's violin concerto for Chinese director Zhang Yimou's film Hero.
Founded in 2012, the orchestra has recruited musicians from around the country, mostly younger than 30.
It's not the first time that the Xi'an Symphony Orchestra performed outside concert halls. They've played at various locations in Xi'an, including the Shaanxi History Museum and the Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum.
Cao says that the Xi'an Symphony Orchestra has been finding creative ways to engage with their audience amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Since Feb 21, the orchestra chorus has presented about 80 shows through live streaming and the symphony orchestra has performed 11 online shows. The shows have attracted more than 23 million viewers.