When Beijing Opera meets a German Conductor and his Symphony Orchestra
Art Exchange VOL.04/2017|XUE Hong


Behind the scenes of the Concert for the 45th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relationship between China and Germany 

“Rhythm of China by Rhine” Peking Opera Symphony Concert 

Thinking by Wind & Flowers, performed by Pipa player WU Yuxia 

Red Flowers Blossom, a folk song of Northern Shaanxi by WANG Erni 

 Renowned German Conductor Stefan Ottersbach 

Love of Butterflies, Beijing Opera Chorus by YU Kuizhi and LI Shengsu 

Monkey King performed by YAN Qinggu 

In late October, YU Fang, president of Peking University Alumni Association in Germany, sent such a "graphic"---

Collision of Eastern and Western Cultures? In specific, a symphony orchestra accompanied the Beijing Opera, and the conductor was a German, Master YU Kuizhi sung the Snow Drift, a Beijing Opera repertoire, but the conductor was a German man, Stefan Ottersbach (This is the first time ever that I knew that a foreign conductor commanded Peking Opera accompaniment). In more specific, the Germany conductor shouted, throwing the baton on the music stand, "Nein, nein!” as YU Kuizhi even didn’t finish the first lining "Snow drifts, bashing into people’s faces with penetrating cold wind"…"This is not going to work!" followed by a statement concerning the meaning of "Symphony". The whole rehearsal field remained silent, I stopped interpretation with an awkward smile, Master YU Kuizhi held a generous grace, smiling calmly trying to find a cut-point, and Stefan Ottersbach tried to be more flexible and cooperative in a smart and rigorous manner.

Integration of Eastern and Western Cultures? The tacit understanding after a day-long co-cultivation, the very right cut of symphony as soon as Master YU Kuizhi finished another free-rhythm "Endless solitary anger, keeping warm in a temple", creating a sweaty contrast. YU Kuizhi thumbed up to Stefan Ottersbach, it was the bursting applauses out of such aria in the old theatre in Frankfurt… so moved! The essence shows its self-significance as the glory of performance returns to calmness. The shock caused by the cultural collision between East and West will gradually precipitate in history ...

I could feel the mood of YU Fang intertwined between tension and excitement from YU Fang after reading the text. But I still remained a little confused about what happened at the scene. After that, I suddenly received her phone call, asking me if I have seen her circle of friends. Without waiting for my answer, she exclaimed: "My friends' circle is full of LIKE!"

Behind the Scene: Just Give Me a Glance, I know How to Pick Up 

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Germany. We should take this opportunity to organize a commemorative event. Under the promotion by GU Yuhua, Secretary-general of Peking Opera Club in Deutschland and former president of Peking University Alumni Association in Germany, this idea was strongly supported by the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and the Chinese Embassy in Germany. CFLAC dispatched a 26-member Chinese performing arts troupe to Germany, the performance, however, with the name of Celebrating the 45th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Ties between China and Germany 'Rhythm of China by Rhine' Peking Opera Symphony Concert , covered Peking Opera, Pipa, Erhu, folk music performances and songs and other content. In particular, what people expected was the joining of YU Kuizhi and LI Shengsu, renowned Chinese Peking Opera performers from National Peking Opera Company.

With the purpose of highlighting the friendly atmosphere of establishing diplomatic relationship between China and Germany, YU Fang contacted the German Giessen University symphony orchestra to participate in the performance. Immediately after the Chinese director heard the announcement, he decided that all the programs should be accompanied by the symphony orchestra and immediately asked the famous masters to write the symphony score and hand it over to the symphony orchestra of the University of Giessen in advance.

CFLAC troupe only had three-day long rehearsal as they arrived in Germany on 12, October, and the concert would be held three days later, the total length for rehearsal. On the first day of co-cultivation, the symphony orchestra of the University of Giessen waited in school early. Taking the advantage of the absence of Chinese staff, Stefan Ottersbach, the orchestra conductor, could not wait to play the opening repertoire, in which they had been rehearsing for more than two months - the symphony Happiness After Sunrise.

YU Fang was stunned for a moment as the music started, a little skeptical of his own ears--- is this still that light and happy Chinese folk music? How i t was possible as there was a taste of Beethoven symphony? She wanted to ask Stefan Ottersbach if he could play the music in a lighter manner. But she stopped--- each conductor has a different understanding of music, the Happiness After Sunrise could be bearing an intense happiness of Germany, isn’t this a fusion of practice of China-Germany cultures.

Being most obvious, Stefan Ottersbach was very satisfied with his interpretation: "How about it? Come on again!" Excitement overflowed with words, he directed the orchestra to play again.

The Peking Opera performed by YU Kuizhi started first. The large German symphony orchestra needed to cooperate with the small band of Peking Opera, composed by the instrument of Jinghu, Yueqin,Guban and Yunluo, the whole orchestra should be coordinated with the singing of YU Kuizhi…… that story in the Wechat circle of friends posted by YU Fang happened at that special moment.

"Snow drifts, bashing into people’s faces with penetrating cold wind", a free-rhythm at the beginning in the section depicting LIN Chong in the Wild Boar Forest, an aria of Peking Opera sang by YU Kuizhi. As he was singing freely with much confidence, Stefan Ottersbach’s face got flushed out of a sudden, throwing the baton on the music stand, "No, no! He does not sing by tempo, do you know what a symphony is?!” …… the atmosphere suddenly became so intense. YU Fang did not interpret Stefan Ottersbach’s words literally, squeezing a smile to him, turning around and starting to talk with YU Kuizhi to find if there was anything wrong. YU Kuizhi said that the tempo in Peking Opera should be free, and all bands were following the performers in domestic performances in China, knowing how to cooperate. However, the German symphony orchestra was totally shocked as they has long been accustomed to play by score.

The whole rehearsal field remained silent, and YU Fang’s heart almost stopped. Although it was expected that the co-rehearsal might not meet some of the requirements in the first place, it was still really intense when people reacted sharply……

Some said that there could be an unaccompanied singing if the symphony orchestra was unable to play. How is this possible, so many people have been preparing for such a long time, it is indeed a pity to give up! Having acknowledged the difference between the two parties, YU Fang patiently explained to Stefan Ottersbach about singing characteristics of Beijing Opera and actively communicated with both parties to solve the problems never encountered before. Stefan Ottersbach is very wise and understood immediately, starting to find solutions with YU Kuizhi--- for example, the first sentence by the Chinese Peking Opera band, the Huqin would give the conductor a hint and the symphony orchestra jumped in properly as the andante initiated after the free-rhythm was finished. It was dealt likewise in the following situation, heightening the emotion and creating the atmosphere in a progressing manner.

Stefan Ottersbach is wise man with much passion, and YU Kuizhi waved with the beat. And the conductor led the band to cut in more and more precisely in the follow-up key points. YU Kuizhi stretched out his thumb, and a proud smile was found on Stefan Ottersbach’s face.

It is YU Kuizhi’s calm smile, YU Fang's understanding and active coordination with the German people and Stefan Ottersbach’s wisdom by analogy that resolved the embarrassment at the scene. The following situation was much smooth with the collision of Eastern and Western art, witnessing better co-cultivation and cooperation with bands was much smoother with the joining of LI Shengsu later.

There are differences between Eastern and Western cultures, requiring our exchanging and cooperation so as to achieve mutual understanding and recognition. I come for cooperation, promote art of Peking Opera and learning as well. Keep smiling forever is my usual guideline. YU Kuizhi said after the event, I learned a lot from Stefan Ottersbach. He has a professional attitude of excellence, very passionate in commanding and he can pass the emotions to each of the orchestra musicians. I like him more and more. Stefan Ottersbach said that he is very delighted to perform with YU Kuizhi. He is a greater performer. Peking Opera is a great drama, very attractive, I was not used to it at the very beginning, but feeling much natural later.

The co-cultivation and performance of Chinese folk music also impressed all the audiences. Thinking by Wind & Flowers, performed by famous Pipa player WU Yuxia, originally a solo, was composed as a concerto for symphony orchestra especially prepared for this performance. Many people in the German orchestra did not know what is the Pipa, YU Fang downloaded and showed them the pictures and played songs for them. This is a sorrowful love song, with a very sad and intense improvisation of pluck for catharsis in the middle of it. However, how the pluck lasted and when the bands cut in also became a minor problem. Stefan Ottersbach’s asking about the times of pluck surprised WU Yuxia for a moment as she never counted. Hence, there was eight times under YU Fang’s help. Stefan Ottersbach told WU Yuxia, after few co-cultivation, it is ok, you don’t have to stick to the times. You just pluck and I know how to pick up when you give a glance.

During the rehearsal on the next day, WU Yuxia and Erhu master DENG Jiandong have exchanged ideas thoroughly with Stefan Ottersbach concerning music style, rhythms and others, specifically exploring the emotional expression and handling of music, reaching a high degree of understanding. Stefan Ottersbach said: just believe me, I totally understand the expression of Chinese music, I will think about few points after going home, and I’m sure the show will be a great success.

On the Stage: Chinese Folk Music Showcases Unique Charm in a Foreign Land 

On 15, October, the celebration of the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Germany, 'Rhythm of China by Rhine', a Chinese Peking Opera Symphony concert, was held in the old theatre in Frankfurt with a long history, one of the grand theatres in Europe. Some 2,000 Chinese and German people have attended the event. The performance began with the imposing symphony Happiness After Sunrise. The Peking Opera, Pipa, Erhu, Chinese folk songs and other programs presented much brilliance to the audiences. The magnificent 160-people chorus staged by the German-Chinese joint choir and German Giessen impressed all deeply, with their performance of German Carmina Burana O Fortuna and China’s Jasmine, Land of Hope and Unforgettable Night pushed the warm atmosphere to the climax. The performance of YU Kuizhi and LI Shengsu undoubtedly highlighted the concert, as the perfect cut-in of the symphony orchestra as YU finished the first free-rhythm, demonstrating a very touching atmosphere. A warm applause broke out from the audiences after the end of a session…… the whole performance is most successful.Distance cannot separate true friends. The performance has created two unprecedented events: firstly, a German conductor’s commanding a symphony orchestra to accompany China’s Peking Opera and instrument, realizing the exchanges and integration between Chinese and Western culture and art while promoting the Chinese Peking Opera and folk music into the mainstream society in Germany. YU Fang said, it is totally out of my expectation that the Europeans like the pipa and erhu so much. Stefan Ottersbach, the conductor, properly expressed the Chinese music. With the unprecedentedly warmth, China's national music has shown its unique charm in a foreign country.

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