Gao Ping is a pianist-composer, born in Sichuan province, known for his evocative textures and piano vocalisation, the recipient of major honours in music. Gao Ping was affected by China’s transformation from a collective to a market economy. This transitional phase between old and new – and the productive cultural clash between East and West – left traces that would later become evident in his music. The Beijing-based musicologist Li Xi’an has referred to Gao Ping as a leading member of the ‘sixth generation’ of Chinese composers.
His music has been commissioned and performed by groups and performers from all over the world, including the Ensemble Berlin PianoPercussion, the Zurich-based Ensemble Pyramide, the New Zealand String Quartet, and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. His works have been presented at a number of prestigious festivals, including the Gaudeamus International Music Week in Amsterdam, the Hibiki Hall Music Festival in Japan, and the Aspen Music Festival.
Gao Ping’s chamber music released by Naxos was critically acclaimed, with a German critic describing it as ‘music that wants to be heard with the ears of a child, full of wonder and amazement…. deep and vulnerable’. The San Francisco Chronicle called his work The Mountain a ‘superb and often sweepingly beautiful work’.
As a pianist, Gao Ping’s repertoire is extensive; he has performed to acclaim all over the world. In 2008, Gao premièred his Piano Concerto with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Mr. Kenneth Young. The Listener enthusiastically acclaimed the two-movement work as ‘a major concerto that cries out for early CD release’.
At the Fourth China International Piano Competition in 2007, his Night Alley was performed as the obligatory work, reflecting the appeal of Gao’s fusing of Western and Eastern idioms, as well as a growing interest in his compositions dealing with China and its complex past.
Since 2004, Dr Gao has been engaged as a lecturer in composition at the School of Music at the Canterbury University in Christchurch, New Zealand. In 2010, he won the Trust Fund Award of the Composers Association of New Zealand.
I wrote Qing Feng or Pure Wind in October 2010 as a commission from the Beijing-based New Purple Forbidden City Orchestra. Working with the sounds of Chinese instruments, I had to adopt a Chinese mindset, which is inclined to take its inspiration from nature. The title Qing Feng continues the ancient Chinese artistic tradition of expression through things or objects from nature.
In my native Sichuan, upon seeing a peaceful, open, and clean place, such as a house or temple, people often say ‘Qing Feng Ya Jing’, which roughly translates as ‘the elegant silence of a pure wind’, to express the feeling that the space evokes in them. I like these four words very much, as they sound beautifully poetic; moreover, the wind adds a little movement to the otherwise still scenery, achieving a wonderfully Zen-like state of mind.
Recently, I have regularly encountered many complaints about China: polluted air, traffic jams, and a general sense of dissatisfaction and restlessness in the people. At this moment, a pure wind like that may be able to alleviate some of this dense atmosphere and be quite welcome to many.
Elaphurus Davidianus (Père David’s deer) is originally a Chinese species and is called Mi Lu in Chinese. It is also widely known by its vernacular name, Si Bu Xiang, which is the title of my piece. Si Bu Xiang means ‘the Four Not-Alike’, referring to the visual resemblance between Père David’s deer and another four animal species: the deer, the cow, the horse, and the camel, although it cannot be comfortably categorised as any one of these four species. As an expression, ‘Si Bu Xiang’ carries the connotation of impurity and even suggests bastardisation, which makes it a pejorative, even derogatory term of reference. The expression is now largely used independently of its original reference to the animal species.