Episodes:

Chinese Visionary: Music of Ge Gan-ru

Experience the unique musical voice of Chinese-born composer Ge Gan-ru, who expands the language of chamber music in provocative and challenging ways. His compositions emphasize novel playing techniques, unorthodox forms, Chinese tone qualities, and melodic ideas that range from the lyrical and charming to the searing and tragic. On this podcast, hear four of his works performed by the Shanghai Quartet with pianist Kathryn Woodard, the ModernWorks ensemble, and pianist Margaret Leng Tan on toy instruments in a work based on a twelfth-century Chinese poem. These performances were recorded in 2006 and 2007 at the Meyer Auditorium of the Freer Gallery of Art as part of the Bill and Mary Meyer Concert Series.

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Left: Photo credit Ken Howard. Right: Detail, F1903.284

Music From Japan:
Ancient Winds/Modern Percussion

Immerse yourself in the ethereal sounds of this traditional court music ensemble as they perform the haunting music of the Japanese gagaku alongside new music written for these unusual instruments, including Toru Takemitsu’s “Seasons.” Mysterious tone-clusters from the ancient mouth organ hover above fleeting sounds from flute, double-reed, and panpipe, accompanied by a phalanx of modern percussion creating an otherworldly atmosphere. The ensemble features an all-star quartet with Mayumi Miyata on sho (mouth organ), Hitomi Nakamura on hichiriki (double-reed), Takeshi Sasamoto on ryuteki (flute) and haisho (panpipe), and Yasunori Yamaguchi on contemporary percussion. This concert was presented as part of the Music From Japan Festival 2008.

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Chinese Music for the Lunar New Year

Also called the Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year in China marks the traditional start of the agricultural season. It’s also a time to admire the hearty plum blossom, which flowers so early that snow is sometimes still on the ground. Enjoy these performances of music celebrating plum blossoms, lingering snow, and the arrival of springtime. This compilation draws from concerts at the museum featuring Bing Xia on zheng, Yi Zhou on pipa and qin, Miao Yi Min on xiao and dizi, and the Gang-a-Tsui Theater, all recorded live at the National Museum of Asian Art.

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Asian American Jazz Pioneers:
The Far East Side Band

Journey to a unique soundscape that blends contemporary jazz with East Asian instruments and styles, all performed by this path-breaking ensemble of the late 1990s. Composer, and violinist Jason Kao Hwang subsequently earned best-of-the-year listings in Downbeat, Jazz Times, Jazziz, and All About Jazz. His chamber opera, The Floating Box, A Story in Chinatown, was named among the top ten recordings of 2005 by Opera News. This early experimental quartet also features multi-percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, jazz tuba artist Joseph Daley, and Sang-Won Park on Korean zithers (kayagum and ajaeng). The notes include essays on Asian American jazz and Jason Hwang’s new introduction. Their performance took place at the Freer Gallery of Art in 1999.

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Japanese Singer of Tales:
Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI

Enjoy the first-ever English version of Japan’s beloved Yaji and Kita stories told in classical shinnai style through the vocal artistry of Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI, named a National Living Treasure by the Japanese government in 2001. He provides all the narration, dialogue, and songs, accompanied by two shamisen players, for tales of this famous bumbling duo as they travel along the road to Kyoto. He begins the program with another classic of the shinnai (narrative song) repertoire in Japanese: Kurokami (Black Hair), a meditation on mortality originally written for the kabuki theater. This performance was recorded in 2008 in conjunction with the exhibition Patterned Feathers, Piercing Eyes: Edo Masters from the Price Collection.

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Seven musicians, wearing white and standing with their instruments in front of a verdant bamboo forest.

Photo courtesy of Ba Bang Chinese Music Society (NY)

Traditional Chinese Music:
The Han Tang Ensemble

Travel to long-ago China in this performance of lively and entrancing music invoking moonlit rivers, plum blossoms, peacocks, an early spring snow, and the stories of famous legends from Ancient China. This outstanding ensemble of musicians — all trained in China— perform on traditional lute (pipa), fiddle (erhu), hammered dulcimer (yangqin), zither (qin), and mouth organ (sheng). This performance was recorded live in concert at the Meyer Auditorium of the Freer Gallery of Art on April 29, 2002.

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Detail from https://asia.si.edu/object/F1969.18/ Iwasa Matabei (1578–1650), Japan, Edo period, early Edo (1615–1868), ink and color on paper, Purchase—Charles Lang Freer Endowment, Freer Gallery of Art, F1969.18

Music From Japan: Teruhisa Fukuda, shakuhachi, and Shihou Kineya, shamisen

Tradition and innovation meet in this concert for two of Japan’s iconic musical instruments: the shakuhachi, a bamboo flute with roots in Zen Buddhism, and the shamisen, a lute with deep links to secular entertainments, from geisha houses to kabuki theater. Teruhisa Fukuda, shakuhachi, has performed widely with traditional ensembles and the likes of the NHK Symphony, the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, and the Hong Kong New Symphony Orchestra. He is joined by the shamisen virtuoso, Shihou Kineya. This concert was recorded at the Freer Gallery as part of the Music From Japan Festival 1999.

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Photos by Witjak Widhi Cahya

Komungo Muse and Permutations:
Jin Hi Kim

Experience a uniquely Korean approach to music through original works for the classical Korean komungo (zither) that utilize interactive computer audio to create entirely new worlds of sound based on Korean aesthetics. Kim has appeared as a soloist at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, and her works have been performed by the Kronos Quartet and the American Composers Orchestra. In the words of the Washington Post, her “unique vision blends . . . state-of-the-art technology, ancient mythology, and timeless music and dance traditions” and her works “cut across barriers of language, culture, and tradition, touch us at deep, irrational levels [and] result in a work that speaks to our common humanity.” This performance was recorded live in concert at the Freer Gallery of Art on January 21, 2000.

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From Buddhist Caves to the Pulitzer Prize:
Music From China Ensemble

Hear original music for Chinese instruments written by four leading composers from China, including Pulitzer Prize winner Zhou Long, performed by North America’s top virtuosos on Chinese wind and string instruments. All the works on this podcast received their Washington premiere at this 1998 concert by the New York–based Music From China ensemble and the New Music Consort. Two of the works were inspired by the eighth-century Buddhist caves in Dunhuang, where music scores were found along with a trove of ancient religious manuscripts.

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Chinese Music of the Seasons:
Bing Xia, zheng

Celebrate the mid-autumn Moon Festival or get in the mood for spring with this entrancing performance on the ancient zheng (a zither) by virtuoso Bing Xia, a graduate of the Shanghai Conservatory. She performs works devoted to the Moon (a key focus of the autumn festival), the fall migration of wild geese, and thoughts occasioned by the autumn season, as well as music invoking springtime, fishing, mountains, and rivers. This performance was recorded at the Freer and Sackler Galleries in 2000 in conjunction with the exhibition Music in the Age of Confucius.

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