Intermezzo Concert 5

Friday, May 17, 2019, 1:00 PM
University of Oregon, Berwick Hall

All Musicking events are free and open to the public. All events are subject to change


Intermezzo Lecture-Concert

The Emperor’s Silk Strings: Violin and Guqin Music Reimagined

Addi Liu, Derek Tam, David Wong

This brief musical presentation blends the elements of a lecture recital with the traditional “elegant gathering” (yaji 雅集) — a get-together of appreciative friends over guqin music. One of China’s oldest musical instruments, the guqin is a plucked instrument with seven strings (traditionally silk) stretched over lacquered wood. Sometimes referred simply as the qin (gu means ancient), it is a traditional scholar’s instrument — a well-learned individual would study calligraphy, landscape painting, and guqin. The Kangxi Emperor (r. 1661–1722), a quintessential scholar, was thoroughly knowledgeable in the guqin repertoire, while also receptive to music from the West.

The retired courtier Gao Shiqi 高士奇 recorded his visit with the Kangxi Emperor in 1703 in his diary Pengshan miji 蓬山密記:

In the afternoon of the 18th day of the month [June 2, 1703], I was summoned to Yuan Jian Zhai 淵鑒齋. The emperor commanded, “Today we shall only talk of joyful matters, and not speak of the sorrows of departure.” Thus, we had a long leisurely conversation. We discussed the subject of music theory and their essential points. There were Western iron-wired instruments [harpsichords] made in the court, with 120 strings, upon which he personally played the tune Mantra of the Monk Pu’an (Pu’an zou 普庵咒). He then said, “I have lately used the qin tablature of the Wild Geese Descending Over the Sandbanks (Pingsha luoyan 平沙落雁) and made a transcription for pipa 琵琶, xianzi 弦子, hu pai 虎拍, zheng 箏.” The musicians played and the four instruments became one; the tone of instruments was that of the qin. The sound was distinctly clear and very elegant.

Nearly a decade later, a very different kind of music was heard at court: Italian music in the style of Corelli. Teodorico Pedrini 德里格 (1671–1746) studied in Rome in the same college where Corelli was employed, and brought Corelli’s sonatas as well as his own compositions to Beijing in 1711. He was immediately put to work to complete Kangxi’s music treatise, teach music, and maintain the dozens of harpsichords and spinets that the imperial palace had collected since the Ming dynasty. Pedrini wrote in a letter dated July 4, 1713 (with a somewhat sardonic comment at the end), “I have already written numerous times that the Emperor has given me seven pupils to teach music to, and having heard them recently he is delighted at their progress, so much so that at the end of my days I shall see myself as Maestro di Cappella. What a fine position!”

This program reimagines a musical soundscape using the European and Chinese instruments available at the court. Mantra of the Monk Pu’an and Wild Geese Descending Over the Sandbanks continue to be iconic pieces in the modern day guqin repertoire. Using the guqin and European instruments familiar to Kangxi, they will be presented in a new arrangement, just as Kangxi himself did so three centuries ago.

Pedrini very likely resorted to local silk strings in his three-and-a-half decades in China; while his requests for gut strings (as well as gilded organs and miscellaneous supplies) were approved in Rome in 1714 and a shipment arrived in the southern ports on China in Canton, the cargo likely did not reach Pedrini in Beijing. Pedrini’s sonatas, the earliest surviving European compositions in China, are modelled after Corelli’s famous Op. 5 sonatas. Pedrini’s Sonata No. 3 will be explored in the sonority of silk strings, with Chinese-inflected florid embellishments in the style of Corelli.

Addi Liu, violin

Addi Liu performs and researches on historical string instruments. His research interests include the history of science in the East-West interaction between Jesuit missionaries and the Kangxi Emperor and the organology of the violoncello da spalla. His major mentors include Jodi Levitz, Elizabeth Blumenstock, Sigiswald Kuijken, and Julie Andrijeski. He holds a B.M. and M.M. from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and is a founding member of the San Francisco-based Baroque ensemble, MUSA. He is a doctoral student in Historical Performance Practice at the Case Western Reserve University.

Derek Tam, harpsichord

Praised not only for his “deft” conducting (San Francisco Chronicle​) but also as a “a master of [the harpsichord]” (San Francisco Classical Voice) and “the fortepianist of the beguiling fingers” (Bloomington Herald-Times), Derek Tam appears regularly throughout the Bay Area and beyond as a conductor and historical keyboardist. Tam performs with some of the nation’s leading period ensembles, and is a founding member of MUSA, a Baroque chamber ensemble, as well as the fortepianist for the Costanoan Trio. He is the Director of Music at First Church Berkeley, and also serves on the board of Early Music America. He is the executive director of the San Francisco Early Music Society, a major advocate for early music in the United States and the presenter of the biennial Berkeley Festival & Exhibition.

David Wong, guqin

Hailing from a long line of Chinese scholars, David Wong is a lifelong student of traditional Chinese arts and a twelfth generation inheritor of the Guangling Guqin School. He has studied guqin (seven string zither), guzheng (Chinese table harp), pipa (Chinese lute), traditional Chinese painting, and tea culture under masters in the United States and China. His interests also led him to graduate studies both here and abroad, researching and absorbing the depths of his Chinese heritage.


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