Metro Weekly

Rhapsody in Chinese: Rediscover Chinese Music at the Kennedy Center

From the Olympics to orchestras, Wang Chaoge is known for directing musical spectacles

China Orchestra - Courtesy of China National Traditional Orchestra

China Orchestra – Photo: Courtesy of China National Traditional Orchestra

When China spent $100 million dollars on the 2008 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, it blew its predecessors out of the water in both scale and spectacle. While the Kennedy Center lacks the budget of the world’s most populous nation, it does have one of the co-directors of that record breaking event, who will premiere her latest production, Rediscover Chinese Music, with the China National Traditional Orchestra next week.

“I don’t want to rest on past glory,” Wang Chaoge says when asked if we can expect any similarities. “I want to produce something new, something innovative, something different, something fresh.”

Chaoge worked with composer Jiang Ying to rearrange and reinterpret ten pieces of Chinese classical music for modern audiences “to challenge old ideas of Chinese culture…and present music different from what they might expect.” The pieces include High Mountain and Flowing Water, Silk Road, Blossoms of a Moonlit River in Spring and Spring Festival Overture. The duo have even worked to challenge ideas of a traditional classical concert.

“We use these elements of lighting, setting, sound, drama — even the musicians act on stage,” Chaoge says, all in an effort “to create a new production, very different from what we expect in a concert hall.” In fact, the 110-piece orchestra and chorus, which had previously performed in the Concert Hall, will this time perform in the Opera House. Joining the orchestra as special guest will be the Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School Chorus, comprising 40 auditioned singers from grades 3 to 5.

Over the past few months the China National Traditional Orchestra, a 55-year-old institution administered by China’s Ministry of Culture, has performed Rediscover Chinese Music throughout their own country. “It has been the hot topic of every city,” says Xi Qiang, president of CNTO. And that’s precisely the point, according to Chaoge. “Worldwide, classical music [attendance] is going down,” Chaoge says. “So my production of Rediscover Chinese Music [attempts] to find a way to have the new generation return to the theater.”

The China National Traditional Orchestra performs Rediscover Chinese Music Friday, Dec. 11, and Saturday, Dec. 12, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 13 at 1 p.m., at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Tickets are $20 to $150. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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