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Instrument steeped in history stirs modern audiences

By CHEN NAN and YUAN HUI | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-25 06:37
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A morin khuur created by Ulji features traditional patterns. [Photo by Ding Genhou/For China Daily]

Nestled in the southwestern expanse of Ordos city in North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region lies the Uxin Banner — a vast territory spanning approximately 11,600 square kilometers with a modest population of 160,000 people.

Despite its remote setting, this region has garnered widespread acclaim, owing to a remarkable cultural phenomenon — the Uxin Banner Morin Khuur Symphony Orchestra of China. This ensemble stands as the nation's pioneering and sole professional symphony orchestra predominantly featuring the traditional musical emblem of the Mongolian ethnic group — the morin khuur, or horse-headed fiddle.

Comprising over 40 musicians adeptly wielding the morin khuur across its three distinct parts — high, middle and bass — the symphony orchestra boasts a repertoire exceeding 100 musical compositions, captivating audiences both domestically and abroad.

"When we showcase our craft beyond Inner Mongolia, particularly in locales where the symphony orchestra and morin khuur are novel experiences, audiences often describe the encounter as nothing short of jaw-dropping," reveals Jin Hai, 49, the director of the Uxin Banner Morin Khuur Symphony Orchestra of China, which was established in 2013.

He continues: "The innovative fusion of the morin khuur with Western brass, woodwind and percussion instruments enthralls audiences, inviting them to delve deeper into the ancient instrument and the rich culture of the Mongolian ethnic group."

Jin initially honed his skills with the morin khuur during middle school before pursuing further studies in music education and morin khuur performances at Inner Mongolia Normal University. He still remembers the orchestra's humble beginnings. Initiated by local authorities, the ensemble initially comprised nearly 30 morin khuur virtuosos.

Driven by a mission to transcend conventional perceptions and breathe new life into this cherished instrument, the symphony orchestra emerged with support from Chagan, a distinguished conductor, composer and the orchestra's current artistic director.

"For individuals of the Mongolian ethnic group such as myself, the morin khuur embodies our people's essence. It's a mystical instrument steeped in history, deserving of wider recognition. Despite its mere two strings, it possesses an astounding range of tones," says Chagan.

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