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A novel venue to celebrate the art of Kunqu

Updated : 2018-06-15
(China Daily USA)

Kunqu artist Zhang Jun racked up a new career achievement during his performance at the Modern Drama Valley festival at the Mercedes-Benz Arena on May 18, performing in a venue that is several times larger than what he is used to.

Kunqu Opera performances usually take place in theaters that can sit up to 2,000 people. The Mercedes-Benz Arena can accommodate 9,000 people and is usually used to host concerts by international stars such as Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.

Kunqu, one of the oldest forms of traditional opera in China, has a history that spans about 600 years. May 18 marked the 17th anniversary of Kunqu being listed as one of the masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO. To commemorate the occasion, Zhang chose to present Shuimo Xindiao (New Tunes of the Water Mill), saying that he hopes to inspire young audiences to "appreciate the beauty of Kunqu, a bright jewel of traditional Chinese art".

Performing in such a large venue came with acoustic challenges, and the 43-year-old sought to overcome them with the help of Peng Tan, an independent music producer who was the music director, and Jin Shaogang, the acoustic engineer of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony.

Zhang also brought together friends from different fields of art and entertainment for the show, including jazz singer Li Quan, soprano Huang Ying, Peking Opera singer Guan Dongtian and Pingtan artist Gao Bowen.

"All these artists are based in Shanghai, and all of them have been good friends of mine for many years. Of course they are Kunqu lovers, and we've had lots of interaction about Kunqu and artistic expressions. We have decided to come together to create an artistic dialogue to pay tribute to this 600-year-old Chinese art form," said Zhang.

"We are ourselves curious about what the collaboration would achieve, but we all agreed that the aesthetics of Kunqu is the core, and that it should not be spoiled. That is the bottom line. I would sing the original melody with the traditional diction and in the old singing style, but I will use new music arrangement to create a novel ambience and present the deep emotional content."

He cited an example using the song Bring in the Wine (Qiang Jin Jiu). Twenty years ago, this celebrated poem by Li Bai was turned into a song by a group of rock artists in Shanghai. Recently, one of the artists, Zhao Wei, who is the lead guitarist of the rock band named Zhi Xing Zhe (Finger Walkers), engaged Peking opera artist Guan Dongtian to help produce a new version of the song. Zhang loved the song so much he asked Zhao if he could perform the song in Kunqu style.

"At the concert, I would be singing together with Big Brother Guan Dongtian, with the rock band playing. All we want is the same thing: to express the unconstrained energy in the original poem."

A novel venue to celebrate the art of Kunqu

Kunqu artist Zhang Jun. [Photo provided to China Daily]



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