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A quartet’s twist on Chinese music

Christina Collins Burton
Arts Editor

With the help of bolts, screws, felt and a regular drinking glass, the “East Meets West” performance at the Little Bridges Hall in Claremont entertained with traditional Chinese music and a twist of historical poetry.

The performance was two parts, the first was a performance played by the Eclipse Quartet and Professor of Music Genevieve Lee on the piano.

The eclipse quartet is made up of Sara Parkins and Sarah Thornblade on violin, Alma Lisa Fernandez on the viola and Maggie Parkins on the cello.

“I love what Ge Gan Ru did with this music,” Andrea Firas, theater arts major from Pitzer College, said. “It is discorded and almost unpleasant to listen to.”

“Four Studies of Peking Opera” opened with the gentle hum of the orchestra tuning up before being interrupted with the violent slam of piano keys and the plucking of strings.

Rather than the traditional smooth sliding of bows across their instruments, the quartet plucked individual strings, playing one note each leading up to the sound of the muffled piano.

“I think the way he uses completely different sounds convey a sense of power into his music,” Firas said.

The piano’s part in the piece created a feeling of suspense as Lee played the notes through felt and assorted bolts that had been placed inside the piano body. The sound of metal against metal allowed it to feel as if there was a play being performed in front of the audience.

Normally meant to accompany intense stage action, the first piece, Prologue, left many audience members awestruck and silent. Some were overheard saying that they had felt like they were in a horror movie with how the music put them on edge.

The second and third parts, titled “Aria” and “Narrative,” played on the sad sounds of the violins and viola to create a sense of longing throughout the Bridges Hall.

When the final piece of the Peking Opera came to an end the audience erupted into applause as the performers took their bows.

“It was nowhere near what I expected from the name of the program,” Irene Cendejas said. “It reminded me that different cultures have different ways of expressing themselves through music.”

But the evening was far from over, as Parkins and Hsuanwei Fan took the stage to recite a poem titled Wild Grass in the original Chinese it was written. Normally this piece is translated and performed in English only.

As Parkins played the high trills of a dramatic scene, Fan’s voice also matched the intensity of the words he spoke. For those curious to know what Fan was being so passionate about, an English translation had been provided for them to follow along with.

The final piece of the evening was “Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte,” a 19-stanza poem about the rise and fall of Napoleon’s rule.

The speaker was adjunct professor of music from Yale University, Michael Friedmann, who enthusiastically shared the history of the piece before performing it.

The piece was a gift from composer Arnold Schoenberg who had just become an American citizen during World War II and wanted to tell the story of the tyranny’s downfall.

“This piece, though it sounds like praise is anything but,” Friedmann said. “It is irony, betterment and disillusionment.”

The instruments enhanced the rich feel of power that Friedmann’s voice brought to the reading, though he stayed in place, his voice left the impression of a man pacing on the stage telling the story of Napoleon.

As the final words were spoken, again the nearly 100 guests erupted into applause.

If you would like information on upcoming events being hosted by the Pomona College visit music.pomona.edu.

Christina Collins Burton can be reached at christina.burton@laverne.edu.

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