Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The dead horse's wish

A free concert by famous Chinese musicians for children and the community

Yang Pau Yen (pipa or Chinese biwa) & Chi Bulgude (morin khuur or horse-headed violin)

Su Ho's white horse

A king once offered his daughter's hand in marriage to the winner of a horse race. But when the winner turned out to be a mere shepherd he broke his word. He took the mans' horse, and offered him money to leave the country instead of his daughter. The shepherd refused and went home. His horse broke free and ran for home, but the kings men caught it and killed it. The man swore revenge, but the horse appeared to him in a dream. The horse said 'Don't worry. Make a musical instrument from my bones, my hair and my skin instead.'

That, we learned today, was one origin in legend of the first two stringed Mongolian morin khuur, or horse headed violin. The most moving and haunting piece at Honna today was played by Chi Bulgude on a descendent of that first instrument . It was a tune written by his father, who was a master in his day, full of landscape, weather and a visceral, throaty beauty. (See for more information on this instrument).

To find world class musicians when  you are expecting something more local at a free concert for children was typical of the surprises this area springs on you. The musicians have between them played on the Oscar winning soundtrack for Bertolucci's 1987 film 'The Last Emporer', with major orchestras, and at the opening ceremony to the Bejing Olympics.

Hiroko Nagao (piano) & Jiang Juan Hua (ehru or Chinese violin)

The programme of tunes and explanation held the children's attention, full of changes of pace from that peculiarly Chinese jogging jauntiness, to meditative quiet, to explosive improvisation. A few crowd pleasing versions of Japanese tunes and classical favourites verged on Easy Listening hell, which is a shame, whether from the musicians taste or poor advice from Japanese producers.  These distracted from the beauty of the more purely Chinese sounding pieces, which with a 'world music' head on I was keen to hear more of. How good this more austere authentic playing can be was demonstarted by a remarkable display of chrystaline solo virtuosity on the pipa, a kind of lute, which sounded somewhere between a guitar and a mandolin. It needed nothing else.

Outside, the children's shoes waited for them to burst out of the hall with their own particular music....

We wandered home, dazed at our luck to be here, crossing the Tadami river, having just heard that. At the shop the door was open, and M's eldest auntie in the back chatting with the owner. Oooh no, she hadn't wanted to go to the concert. She doesn't understand that foreign music...By contrast, the grandma from next door was gutted: 'I really wanted to go, I love music, but all the others said we had to play gate ball as usual, I am so disappointed!' The group wins once again.


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