Chinese Musicians Discuss Upcoming Ancient Paths, Modern Voices

Classic Arts Features   Chinese Musicians Discuss Upcoming Ancient Paths, Modern Voices
China's hold on the world's imagination has never been greater than it is today. Carnegie Hall's fall celebration pays tribute to the nation's influence. Tan Dun, Wu Man, Long Yu and Lang Lang discuss the importance of celebrating the music of their native land.


This remarkable nation finds itself at an important historical moment, inspiring an abundance of cultural activities by artists both within and outside of its borders. Ancient Paths, Modern Voices: Carnegie Hall's celebration of Chinese culture this October and November: pays tribute to China's influence around the globe. With 30 events presented across New York City, the festival offers insights into a world that mixes the ancient and the modern, the traditional and the cutting edge. In the following excerpts from recent interviews, four of the featured Chinese musicians: Tan Dun, Wu Man, Long Yu, and Lang Lang: discuss the importance of celebrating the music of their native land with the world.

TAN DUN, Composer and Conductor

When I first came to the stage and conducted at Carnegie Hall in 1998, I thought it was a dream because 15 years earlier I had been a Chinese farmer planting rice. I never believed I could conduct here: especially with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Yo-Yo Ma [in March 2003]. Later I donated the manuscript of the piece we performed to Carnegie Hall's archives. That's where I wanted my manuscript to stay because Carnegie Hall is the home of dreams, the home of imagination, and the home of all different kinds of people who have a desire to come together in harmony to create a much better future ... and much better music.

Music is itself a dream, but this dream consists of many different minds, techniques, cultures, and philosophies. Everyone comes to Carnegie Hall from a different culture, and thus Carnegie Hall becomes a huge stage that crosses all kinds of boundaries. So, to me, Ancient Paths, Modern Voices introduces all kinds of Chinese traditions, musical techniques, and styles, which will influence New Yorkers, Americans, and American culture.

I think the new Chinese culture needs to come to a wider stage and be shared with all kinds of people, to harmonize with all kinds of cultures. That openness will bring about a freshness to Chinese culture. But meanwhile, Chinese culture will also bring a lot of interesting things to America. And eventually, if American culture and Chinese culture "osmosize": with the technique, the mind, the culture, and the philosophy all united: I think life is going to be much more interesting.

WU MAN, Pipa

Since I came to the US, I've had the great opportunity to work with different musicians. My goal is to get my instrument: the pipa: with its roots in the Chinese tradition, out of China to see if this instrument can exist somewhere else. That's why I have many different projects with Western orchestras, trios, quartets, theater, jazz, and electronic music. I think that's important for Western audiences because they've never heard of this instrument. They have no idea what a pipa is.

How do you introduce different musical cultures to Western audiences? To me, that's very important. So what's the first step? It's to play something they're familiar with. And then, you tell them that this is a traditional Chinese instrument, and you go back to what the older pieces sounded like. That's the basic idea that I start with. That's why I go to all different areas and see how many audiences I can reach.

The first time I heard that Carnegie Hall would be putting on this big China festival, I just couldn't find words to express myself. I want to show audiences the other side of China: not just the big cities, tall buildings, and all the cars. I want to show the real China: the China I grew up in: which still exists.

LONG YU, Conductor

Classical music came to China at the beginning of the last century. There were a lot of pioneers: musicians famous within China: like Huang Zi or Xiao Youmei. Now classical music has really become part of Chinese life. I am always saying that classical music today does not only belong to Western societies, but rather to the whole world. I think it is just like driving cars, using cell phones, or watching TV. You cannot say that any of that new technology belongs to a certain country or continent. The same is true for music. It belongs to all humans. Through the talents of the next generation, more and more people will appreciate music, no matter whether it's Western classical music, old Chinese music, or the contemporary mix of Chinese and Western musics together. I think that this is what we are all looking forward to in the future.

Certainly the history of Carnegie Hall and the history of the artists who play here have made this a place where all musicians really look forward to performing. So it is certainly a big honor for Chinese orchestras: for the entire Chinese community: to have this festival at Carnegie Hall.

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Lang Lang


As a Chinese person, I must say that my native land has really progressed in an enormous way in different areas, particularly in the performing arts. There is an enormous passion for music - classical music - and there are incredible people coming up from all over China. This festival at Carnegie Hall will provide many a new perspective for audiences in New York, but it will also be a platform to many unknown or new Chinese artists to perform on the stage. It's not only Chinese artists who are going to participate in this project. There will be other great artists who live in Europe and in America, making this a truly international event.

China is a pretty big country, and it also has 5,000 years of history, so there are many elements. Even to me, as a Chinese person, there are always new things I discover everyday. When you read a book, when you see a Peking opera, even when you're watching a Chinese movie, there are always new traditions and new lifestyles that you can adopt from what you have seen and heard.

Of course, traditional Chinese music is not written for the piano (or Western instruments). But recently, in the last hundred years, the piano has become quite popular in China, so many composers started adapting all of these traditional melodies and creating new pieces for Western instruments like piano, violin, cello, clarinet, and so on. In this festival, we will do both. We will do traditional music on Western instruments while also inviting Chinese folk musicians to play on their original instruments, and we will have new commissions by wonderful Chinese composers.

I've got to say that this project will help so much. China has great talents. I think things like Ancient Paths, Modern Voices will give them a bit of attention around the globe. This will open many of the young Chinese talents to new experiences, and also at the same time open the door to the great musicians and maestros who live here in the West. This is truly a new bridge between Chinese and Western music, and also between Chinese music and Western audiences.


Carnegie Hall's Ancient Paths, Modern Voices features 21 days of events and exhibitions throughout New York City from October 21 through November 10, 2009.

In addition to his appearances at Carnegie Hall, Lang Lang also performs in Costa Mesa, California, when the Ancient Paths, Modern Voices festival is presented at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts from October 15 to November 24, 2009. Visit for more information.

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