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: Detail, https://asia.si.edu/object/F1932.53/
Right: Anton Belov, photo courtesy of Dispeker Artists

Inspired by the Mystics:
Anton Belov, baritone; Albert Kim, piano

Listen to the impact that medieval Persian poet Hafiz exerted on the Romantic movement in Europe through this compelling recital by the Russian-born baritone Anton Belov. He explores German musical settings derived from the poetry of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that was in turn inspired by the first translation of Hafiz’s Divan into a Western language in 1813. Goethe’s West-Eastern Divan (1818) combined his own Hafiz-inspired poems with Sufi poems by the Persian mystic. The resulting work inspired Beethoven, Schumann, Wolf, and Brahms and crossed the Atlantic to influence Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau. These German works are paired with settings by Russian composers of the Biblical Song of Songs and poems by Azerbaijani writer Mizra Shafi Vazeh and Russian mystic Nikolai Minsky. This performance was recorded in concert in 2015 in conjunction with the exhibition Nasta’liq: The Genius of Persian Calligraphy.

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Inspired by the Ottomans:
Pedja Mužijević, piano

Share in the spell that Ottoman music cast on European composers, from Mozart’s famous “Rondo Alla Turca,” of the 1780s, to music written just after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Marco Tajcevic’s 1926 “Seven Balkan Dances”­—widely played as a virtuoso vehicle—reflects music from areas ruled by the Ottomans for five hundred years. The “Music of the Sayyids and the Dervishes,” from the mid-1920s, by mystic philosopher G. I. Gurdjieff and Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann, melds the improvisational style of Turkish taksim with the rhythms of Mevlevi devotion. This concert was presented in 2006 in conjunction with the exhibition Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from Ottoman Turkey.

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Musician posed playing the violin and gazing upward toward a stone statue of Ganesha seated upon a tiered pedestal.

Photo from www.lalgudigjrkrishnan.com

Master of South Indian Music:
Lalgudi G. J. R. Krishnan, violin

Hear how the Western violin is transformed into a virtuoso vehicle for South Indian classical music in the hands of one of its most accomplished exponents, Lalgudi Krishnan. Since being introduced into Indian music in the 1830s, the violin has been adapted in a variety of ways and is heard here in a wide range of ragas devoted to Shiva, Rama, Krishna, and Radha. Lalgudi Krishnan is joined by Kamalakar Rao on the double-headed drum, mridangam, and A. S. Shankar on the ghatam, a large clay pot unique to South Indian music. This performance was recorded live in concert at the Freer Gallery in May 2000.

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detail of a manuscript cover, two bearded men holding two books, halos behind their heads

St. Mark and St. Luke; Right cover of The Washington Manuscript of the Gospels, F1906.298

Byzantine Chant: Advent and Christmas Music from Mt. Sinai

Cappella Romana, a leading Byzantine music ensemble of virtuoso singers from Greece, England, and the United States, performs “Medieval Byzantine Chant: Advent and Christmas from St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai, Egypt.” This concert was part of the Meyer Concert Series and was presented on November 30, 2006, in conjunction with the Sackler exhibition In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000, and in cooperation with the J. Paul Getty Museum exhibition Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai.

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A photo of the Jasper Quartet.

Hear the award-winning Jasper String Quartet play two works by the Japanese composer Akira Nishimura: Spring, part of a larger project inspired by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and Pulse of Lights. The program also features Haydn’s Quartet op. 64, no. 6 and Mendelssohn’s lyrically beautiful String Quartet in D.

Jasper String Quartet:
Akira Nishimura’s Spring

Hear the award-winning Jasper String Quartet play two works by the Japanese composer Akira Nishimura: Pulse of Lights, which was premiered in Tokyo in 1992, and Spring, which received its world premiere at this concert and is inspired by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

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Katherine Chi sitting at the piano.

Camille Saint-Saëns’s gorgeously romantic Fifth Piano Concert, written while the composer lived in Luxor, forms the heart of this recital of piano music inspired by Egypt. This performance was presented at the Freer Gallery in 2017 in conjunction with the exhibition Divine Felines: Cats in Ancient Egypt.

Inspired by Egypt:
Katherine Chi and Dina Vainshtein, pianos

Camille Saint-Saëns’s gorgeously romantic Fifth Piano Concert, written while the composer lived in Luxor, forms the heart of this recital of music inspired by Egypt. Hear it performed in the composer’s own rapturous arrangement for two pianos. Also enjoy the atmospheric Canope, Claude Debussy’s musical response to funerary urns from the ancient Nile, and Anton Arensky’s charming Egyptian Nights, written for Russia’s Imperial Ballet. The concert concludes with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s spectacular Études-tableaux. This performance was presented at the Freer Gallery in 2017 in conjunction with the exhibition Divine Felines: Cats in Ancient Egypt.

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Detail, At Ease in the Countryside: Scholars and Fishermen. Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783–1856).

Much of the Japanese and Chinese music heard on this podcast evokes some aspect of nature: waves, birds, trees, sunrise, and the seasons. Japanese artists have sometimes depicted the koto (or a related instrument) being played by scholars contemplating the natural world, as in the screen above—an approach incorporated from Chinese tradition. Detail, At Ease in the Countryside: Scholars and Fishermen. Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783–1856). Japan, Edo period, 19th century. Six-panel screen; ink and light color on paper. Purchase, F1961.1

Music for the Soul:
From East Asia to the Middle East

Relax with gentle yet invigorating music performed by virtuoso artists from Japan, China, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and the United States. These diverse concerts were recorded live at the Freer and Sackler Galleries between 2008 and 2019.

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“The Shanghai Quartet performs composer Ye Xiaogang’s Colorful Sutra Banner as part of the Bill and Mary Meyer Concert Series. The quartet is accompanied by Gloria Chien on the piano.”

Colorful Sutra Banner: Shanghai Quartet, with Gloria Chien, Piano

Hear composer Ye Xiaogang’s musical work Colorful Sutra Banner, inspired by the Buddhist prayer flags he saw in the Tibetan landscape. The same artists who played the composition’s American premiere at Lincoln Center perform on this podcast. Mendelssohn’s Quartet in E-flat Major and Franck’s Piano Quintet in F Minor complete the program.

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Wu Man and Shanghai Quartet

Shanghai Quartet with Wu Man, pipa

Two-time Grammy nominee Wu Man performs on pipa (Chinese lute) with the Shanghai Quartet for Red Lantern by Zhao Jiping and Zhao Lin, based on the soundtrack to Zhang Yimou’s Oscar-nominated film Raise the Red Lantern.  She and the quartet also perform Tan Dun’s seminal work, Ghost Opera. Completing the program are two pieces for the quartet: Yi-wen Jiang’s ChinaSong and Song of the Ch’in, by Grammy nominee Zhou Long.

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