In 1995, composer Chen Qigang, music director of the Beijing Olympic Games, wrote Extase for oboe and orchestra in memory of his friend composer Mo Wuping. Mo, one of the first few Chinese contemporary musicians known to the Western music circle died of cancer at 34 in 1993.
"He was so talented but passed away when he was so young. I suddenly realized how fragile life is. So I used the melody of folk song Sanshilipu which Mo used in his work Fan I to create Extase," Chen said in Beijing on Oct 24. That evening, The London Sinfonietta played Extrase under the baton of George Benjamin.
It is a major concert presented by Beijing Music Festival to celebrate contemporary music as both Chen and Benjamin are backbone figures in this genre. More importantly, and the interesting point is, both studied under Olivier Messiaen (1908-92), the great French composer of the 20th century.
Beijing Music Festival's founder and artistic director Yu Long considers the concert "a conversation between Western and Chinese interpretation of new music from one same influence".
The Chinese folk song Sanshilipu is played on a Chinese folk instrument called the suona, so Chen makes the oboe play in the direction of the suona. The player uses circular breathing and difficult repeated-note techniques to produce a strong, harsh reed-instrument sound that is nevertheless carefully matched to the oboe's capabilities.
The piece has been included in the Western conservatories' textbooks for oboe students.
Despite its success, the sound of the heart-broken tune of Sanshilipu brings back too many painful memories for Chen. Some 17 years ago, he wrote it after losing a talented friend. In early September, he lost his only son Chen Yuli, also a talented young musician who produced many movie & TV soundtracks including director Zhang Yimou's The Flowers of War and Under the Hawthorn Tree.
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