Gao Ping

11 September 2014 / Composer Focus

Gao Ping is a pianist-composer, born in Sichuan province, known for evocative textures and piano vocalization, and is the recipient of high musical honors. Growing up as a young pianist at the Sichuan Conservatory in Chengdu, Gao Ping was affected by China’s concurrent transformation from a collective to a market economy. This transitional phase between old and new – and the productive cultural clash between East and West – left traces that would later be evident in his music.

From his mother, Luo Lianglian, the singer and teacher, Gao Ping gained a fascination with vocalization, while his father Gao Weijie initiated him into the Society for Exploration of New Music at its inception. The Beijing-based musicologist Li Xi’an has referred to Gao Ping as a leading member of the “sixth generation” of Chinese composers after the “fifth generation” composers such as Tan Dun and Qu Xiaosong.

As a pianist, Gao Ping’s repertoire is extensive; he has performed to acclaim all over the world. In 2008, Gao Ping premiered his Piano Concerto with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Mr. Kenneth Young. The Listener enthusiastically acclaimed the two-movement work as “a major concerto that cries out for early CD release.” Reviewing a Naxos disc of Gao Ping’s performance of his own chamber music, the critic Ian Dando called Gao “the man with 1001 tone colors.”

His pianistic proclivities and understanding of contemporary music have led Gao Ping to become sought after by living composers, including George Crumb and Frederic Rzewski. His recitals present thought-provoking programmes, and often feature improvisations which composer Jack Body describes as “astounding.”

Gao Ping approaches the creation of music with the same intensity as his activity as a performer would suggest.

In Europe, his music has been commissioned or performed by groups including the Berlin Piano-Percussion Ensemble, the Zurich-based Ensemble Pyramide, and the Gaudeamus International Music Week in Amsterdam. Last year, pianist Frederick Chui played Gao Ping’s Two Soviet Love Songs at the Soloistes Aux Serres d’Autueil in Paris.

In Asia, his music was performed at the Beijing-Modern International Music Festival, Hibiki Hall Music Festival in Japan, Macau International Music Festival, and was commissioned by the Taiwan National Chinese Orchestra.

In North America, his music was premiered at the Aspen Music Festival, and commissioned by pianist Ursula Oppens and violinist Arnold Steinhardt, respectively. The San Francisco Chronicle called his work The Mountain a “superb and often sweepingly beautiful work.”

Gao Ping’s chamber music on the Naxos label was critically acclaimed and was described by a German critic as “music which wants to be heard with ears of a child, full of wonder and amazement… deep and vulnerable.” He provided a portion of the award-winning score to Vincent Ward’s film Rain of the Children.

While completing his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, he won the 2003 Auros Compostion Prize (Boston) and was resident at the MacDowell Colony for Artists.

Since 2004, Dr. Gao has taken up a composition lecturership in the School of Music at the Canterbury University in Christchurch, New Zealand. In New Zealand, his music has been presented by Michael Houstoun, John Chen, Christchurch International Arts Festival, New Zealand String Quartet, and NZTrio. Gao is the recipient of the 2010 CANZ (Composers Association of NZ) Trust Fund Award.

In his most recent works, Gao returns more fully to China as a creative theme. Night Alley, a piece based on an essay by Chen Danqing, mingles his China-inspired melodies with quotations from Chopin’s Mazurka, creating a unique sound world which once resonated in the corridors of Chinese communes.

At the 4th China International Piano Competition in 2007, the piece was performed as the obligatory work, reflecting the appeal of Gao’s fusing of Western and Eastern idioms, as well as the expanding interest in his compositions dealing with China and its multiple pasts.

In 2011 Gao Ping was commissioned to write for the New Zealand String Quartet and baritone. This work Three Poems by Mu Xin was premiered by the New Zealand String Quartet and Jonathan Lemalu at the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts in March 2012.

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