Hundred Antiquities: Music From China

Hear new music for Bronze Age bells, folk songs arranged by Pulitzer Prize winner Zhou Long, music from 11th-century Buddhist caves, and “Hundred Antiquities” by Grammy-nominated composer Zhou Tian, co-commissioned by the Freer and Sackler Galleries. This concert was presented in 2018 in conjunction with the exhibition Resound: Ancient Bells of China.


Music From China Ensemble

Wang Guowei, erhu and gaohu (fiddles)
Sun Li, pipa (lute)
Chen Yu, dizi (flute)
Susan Cheng, zhongruan (lute)
Katie Hyun, violin
Michael Katz, cello
Frank Cassara, bianzhong (replica set of ancient Chinese bells) and other percussion

Dunhuang Music (1989)


Ye Dong, transcription; Zhou Long, arrangement
For pipa, dizi, zhongruan, cello, and bianzhong (replica set of ancient Chinese bells)

  1. Qing Bei Le
  2. Shui Gu Zi I
  3. Shui Gu Zi II
    • Hu Xiang Wen
    • Chang Sha Nu Yin

Two Bagatelles (2017)


Wang A-Mao
For dizi, gaohu, and pipa
US premiere

  1. When a Drizzly Day Comes
  2. When a Horse Bell Rings

Drinking Alone with the Moon (2014)


Wang Gouwei
For erhu, violin, and cello
DC premiere

Chinese Folk Songs (1989)


Zhou Long, arrangement
For erhu, pipa, dizi, and cello

  1. Jasmine
  2. Lan Hua Hua
  3. Driving the Mule Team

River Songs (2001)


Yang Yong
For erhu and cello

  1. The River Spirit
  2. Da Shosho
    (without pause)
  3. To the Western Frontier

Hundred Antiques (2018)


Zhou Tian
For erhu, pipa, violin, cello, and bianzhong (replica set of ancient Chinese bells)
DC premiere

Hundred Antiques was co-commissioned by the Freer and Sackler Galleries and Music From China through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. This concert was made possible, in part, through support to Music From China from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music and was presented in conjunction with the exhibition Resound: Ancient Bells of China.


Dunhuang Music
Ye Dong, transcription; Zhou Long, arrangement

In 1900 a Tang dynasty music manuscript titled Dunhuang Qu Pu (Dunhuang Music Notation) was discovered in a cave temple at Dunhuang in northwestern China. It was among approximately fifty thousand manuscripts that Buddhist monks had sealed in a cave library in the eleventh century, apparently to avoid capture by an invading army. In addition to Buddhist canonical works, the library contained Buddhist commentaries, apocryphal works, prayers, Confucian and Taoist tracts, Nestorian Christian writings, government documents, anthologies, glossaries, dictionaries, calligraphy exercises, and a compilation of twenty-five musical works.

These music compositions came in two types: those titled simply by tempo and form, such as “fast” and “repeat slow,” and those with programmatic names, such as the Changsha Maiden, Scatter the Golden Sand, Seeking Wealth, the Barbarian Asks, Involvement of the Heart, Emptying the Cup, and Water Drum Melody. The music is notated as tablature for the pipa (Chinese lute). Symbols describe which strings should be pressed and where, which should be plucked and how, and in what sequence. In 1955 (with revisions in 1969) the Japanese music scholar Hayashi Kenzo published photographs of the original notation and his own transcriptions in Western staff notation. To figure out how the pipa may have been tuned (and thus what scales were used in the twenty-five compositions), Hayashi Kenzo was given access to an eighth-century pipa in the Shosoin Repository at Nara. He not only discovered three different handwritings in the Dunhuang compositions, but he also determined that each one indicated a different melodic mode (or scale).

Ye Dong of the Shanghai Conservatory published a modern transcription in 1984. Based on his work, Dunhuang music seems to have been characterized by triple meter and a scale of seven notes rather than the five-tone scale of much other Chinese music. This suggests the influence of Central Asian music. Apparently, the five pieces Zhou Long selected for his new arrangements were originally employed in a royal court for entertainment or ceremonial purposes rather than for religious rituals.

  • Adapted from notes provided by Music From China and drawn from Chen Yingshi, “A report on Chinese research into the Dunhuang music manuscripts,” trans. Coralie Rockwell, Musica Asiatica 6 (1991).

Composer/arranger Zhou Long, who was born in 1953, graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music in 1983 and was appointed composer-in-residence with the China Broadcasting Symphony. He traveled to the United States in 1985 under a fellowship to attend Columbia University, where he studied with Chou WenChung and Mario Davidovsky. He received a doctor of musical arts degree in 1993. Zhou Long is currently Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory. A Pulitzer Prize-winning composer for his first opera, Madame White Snake, in 2011, Zhou Long has also received numerous awards, including the 2012–2013 Elise L. Stoeger Prize from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, an Academy Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Masterprize and the CalArts/Alpert Award, and he won the Barlow competition and commission.


Two Bagatelles
Wang A-Mao

This musical material is based on two well-known Cantonese folk tunes. The first movement, When a Drizzly Day Comes, is characterized by three independent music layers, which are constantly presented by three different instruments. Gaohu sings out the original folk melody, while bamboo flute shadows behind in a different key as the background layer. Pipa plucks out some ornamenting elements to suggest raindrops. The second movement, When a Horse Bell Rings, draws inspiration from homonymous Cantonese folk music. Pitch material has been deliberately fragmented into several small phrases. Pipa mainly presents the horse bell effect.

A composer of contemporary classical music, Wang A-Mao has received recognition in both Asia and the United States. Her orchestral works have been performed by the American Composers Orchestra in its 23rd Underwood New Music Readings and by the Kansas City Symphony in 2012 and 2015. In 2011 Wang was selected as a winner of the Young Composer Project held by the Beijing Modern Music Festival. Her chamber works have been premiered by Alarm Will Sound, Third Angle, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, Music From China, and Ding Yi Ensemble. Wang’s Chinese orchestral, chamber, and solo compositions have won numerous prizes and have been performed throughout China. Currently Wang teaches at the Xinghai Conservatory of Music in Guangzhou. She completed her PhD and MM studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and received her BA in composition from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.


Drinking Alone with the Moon
Wang Guowei

Inspiration for this trio comes from the charming and witty poem of the same title by Tang dynasty poet Li Bai. The music follows the flow of poetry. The erhu is the poet who at times recites, sings, and dances. The cello is his shadow, and the violin is the personification of the moon.

Marking forty years as a professional erhu musician, Wang Guowei contributes to the development of Chinese music both as performer and composer. His work combines Chinese idiomatic expression, tone color, and nuanced playing with non-traditional composition techniques. Many of his compositions explore unusual instrumental combinations, such as Kong-Wu (percussion quartet), Two Plus Two (Chinese string trio and tape), Songs for Huqin and Saxophone Quartet, and Reflections (erhu and cello).


Chinese Folk Songs
Zhou Long, arrangement

A great variety of musical styles and local colors characterize China’s folk music traditions, as is apparent in Chinese folk songs. These works mirror people’s daily lives, thoughts and sentiments, local customs, and manners. The song Jasmine, which praises the fragrant jasmine tea, carries the refined and genteel musical style of Jiangsu province in southern China. Lan Hua Hua and Driving the Mule Team are both from Shaanxi province in northern China. The former reflects injustice suffered in bygone days, while the latter sings of the simple rhythms of rustic life.


River Songs
Yang Yong

As a blend of both avant-garde and popular styles, River Songs was inspired by Hequ, a county in Shanxi province at the tip of the Yellow River delta. People there are renowned for their vocal ability. River Songs offers three lyrical glimpses into their lives, beginning with The River Spirit, a revered figure in local culture. Second is Da Shosho, the local slang for flirting. The piece concludes without pause with the farewell song To the Western Frontier.

Composer Yang Yong was born in Beijing. His earliest musical influence came from the Peking Opera, folk songs, and the many kinds of folk storytelling shared in northern China. Yang Yong received a PhD in composition from Brandeis University, was a faculty member at the New England Conservatory of Music, and currently teaches at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. His music has been played in the United States, Italy, England, Australia, Spain, Korea, Yugoslavia, Canada, China, and the former Soviet Union.  The Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, Dniepropetrovsk Symphony Orchestra in Ukraine, the China Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Korean Chamber Ensemble, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, and the Sydney Alpha Ensemble in Australia have performed Yang Yong’s compositions.


Hundred Antiques
Zhou Tian

A traditional Chinese style of decorative arts and textiles, known as the Hundred Antiques, inspired this work. It was especially popular as a decorative pattern incorporated into rebuses for auspicious wishes. The tradition of using patterns and images to symbolize purposes and meanings that are otherwise not seen on the surface is still extremely popular in modern China.

Fascinated by the symbolic nature of the Hundred Antiques, Zhou Tian created a musical work that uses contemporary music styles to reflect this lasting tradition and passion. In fact, combining ancient Chinese bells with two of the most popular Chinese traditional instruments (erhu and pipa) and two Western instruments (violin and cello) highlights the mosaic of cultures in this work.

Composer Zhou Tian (born 1981) came of age in a China marked by economic reforms. By his twentieth birthday, he was in the United States, where he trained at the Curtis Institute of Music, Juilliard School, and the University of Southern California. His music has been performed by leading orchestras and performers in the US and abroad, including the Pittsburgh Symphony and Hong Kong Philharmonic, and by pianist Yuja Wang. His recent commissions include the Grammy-nominated Concerto for Orchestra by the Cincinnati Symphony and Louis Langree, the cello concerto Flowing Sleeves by Deutsche Grammophon artist Jian Wang, and the large-scale chorale suite The Grand Canal. Nominated for a 2018 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition, Zhou Tian is associate professor of composition at Michigan State University College of Music.


Wang Guowei, erhu, is both a composer and performer on the Chinese two-string fiddle. He studied at the Shanghai Conservatory and was concertmaster and soloist with the Shanghai Traditional Orchestra. He joined Music From China in 1996 as artistic director and has appeared with the Shanghai Quartet, Ying Quartet, Amelia Piano Trio, Third Angle New Music Ensemble, Virginia Symphony, and Columbus Symphony Orchestra, as well as with Ornette Coleman, Butch Morris, and Yo-Yo Ma. Wang Guowei founded and conducts the Music From China Youth Orchestra. He is artist-in-residence in Chinese Music Performance at Williams College and director of the Williams College Chinese Ensemble. He also conducts the Westminster Choir College Chinese Music Ensemble and is co-director and conductor of the Swarthmore College Chinese Ensemble.

Susan Cheng, zhongruan, is the executive director of Music From China. She has promoted and developed Chinese music in the United States by founding Music From China in 1984. In addition to performing on yangqin (hammered dulcimer) and ruan (lute), Cheng is a lecturer and workshop leader in programs for children and adults. She is an instructor of plucked strings at Williams College and Westminster Choir College at Rider University.

Sun Li, pipa, graduated from the Shenyang Music Conservatory, where she was a member of the Central Song and Dance Ensemble in Beijing. Performing with Music From China since 2002, she has also appeared with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, New Brunswick Symphony Orchestra, Columbus Symphony Orchestra, and the 2013 Lincoln Center Festival, and she has performed a solo recital at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Yu Chen, dizi, began learning the Chinese flute at age six. She entered the Central Conservatory of Music’s affiliate middle school in 2005 and the Central Conservatory in 2011. While in college, she was first chair in the bangdi section of the China Junior National Orchestra, which held performances at the National Performing Arts Center, Beijing Concert Hall, and Zhongshan Music Hall.

Michael Katz, cello, has appeared as a soloist and chamber musician at Weill Recital Hall, Alice Tully Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, Tokyo’s Oji Hall, and Jerusalem’s Henry Crown Auditorium. He has received all three prizes at the 2011 Aviv Competition as well as first prizes at the Juilliard School’s 2010 Concerto Competition and the 2005 Turjeman Competition. He has collaborated and performed with Itzhak Perlman, Midori, Anthony Marwood, Donald Weilerstein, Peter Frankl, Roger Tapping, and Charles Neidich. His festival appearances include performances at Ravinia, Music@Menlo, Lucerne, Yellow Barn, Sarasota, Malaga Clasica, and the Holland Music Sessions. Born in Tel-Aviv, Katz began his cello studies at age seven. He received his BM degree from the New England Conservatory, his MM from the Juilliard School, and his doctorate of music from SUNY Stony Brook.

Frank Cassara, percussion, has performed around the globe with the Philip Glass Ensemble and with Steve Reich and Musicians. He has appeared at major festivals here and abroad as a member of the New Music Consort/PULSE Percussion Ensemble. Cassara has toured extensively with Newband/Harry Partch Ensemble and has performed or recorded with Music From China, Manhattan Marimba Quartet, Talujon Percussion Quartet, North/South Consonance, and Ethos Percussion Group. In addition to being principal percussionist of the Connecticut Grand Opera and Riverside Symphony, he has performed with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra, and the Long Island Philharmonic. Cassara has played for the Broadway shows Porgy and Bess, The Lion King, 42nd Street, and Phantom of the Opera, and he heads the percussion departments at LIU POST, Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music, and Vassar College.

Katie Hyun, violin, won Astral’s 2016 National Auditions. She has appeared as soloist with the Houston Symphony, Dallas Chamber Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Columbia Festival Orchestra. Her numerous festival performances include the Chelsea Music Festival, Bravo! Vail, Chamber Music Northwest Winter Festival, Bright Sheng’s The Intimacy of Creativity festival in Hong Kong, and the New York in Chuncheon and Busan Chamber Music festivals, both in South Korea. Hyun is the founder and director of the small chamber orchestra Quodlibet Ensemble. She was also a founding member of the award-winning Amphion String Quartet, which won the Concert Artists’ Guild auditions in 2011 and received a spot on the roster of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS Two Program.

Music From China is a chamber ensemble that performs eclectic programs of traditional Chinese music and contemporary work. Established in 1984 by director Susan Cheng, the group has performed at the Library of Congress, Asia Society, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Art, Chautauqua Institution, and 92nd Street Y. It has participated in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, American Folk Festival, Boston Early Music Festival, Ecstatic Music Festival, and Skaneateles Music Festival as well as at colleges and universities across the United States. A proponent of new music, Music From China has commissioned and performed works by celebrated composers Chen Yi, Zhou Long, Bright Sheng, Huang Ruo, Eric Moe, Lei Liang, Mathew Rosenblum, and Derek Bermel. In recognition for creative programs that combine the music of East and West, Music From China received a Chamber Music America/ASCAP Adventurous Programming Commendation.


This podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Audio engineering by SuMo Productions. Web design by Ryan King, with additional web production by Torie Castiello Ketcham and Gio Camozzi. Copy editing by Nancy Eickel. Special thanks to the artists for granting permission to share their performance at the Freer and Sackler Galleries.

Hundred Antiques was co-commissioned by the Freer and Sackler Galleries and Music From China, through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. This concert was made possible, in part, through support to Music From China from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music and was presented in conjunction with the exhibition Resound: Ancient Bells of China.

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