Born in Shenyang, China in 1968,GUO GAN was first trained by his father, Guo Junming, a renowned erhu(Chinese violin) master. An honors graduate from Shenyang Music Conservatory, he became professor at Liaoning Music Conservatory in 1995. Also a jazz specialist, Guo founded the jazz groups, GYQ and Dragon Jazz, while pursuing his interest in percussion.Living in France since 2001, he has recorded for numerous French film soundtracks, including L’Idole, (dir. Samantha Lang), Sa Majesté Minor(dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud), Le Premier Cri (dir. Gilles de Maistre), and others. Performing with more than ten orchestras in Europe and Asia, he has regularly collaborated with internationally acclaimed artists such as Lang Lang, Didier Lockwood, Yvan Cassar, and Gabriel Yared. A highly prolific performer, Guo Gan continues to perform worldwide, in all genres varying from classical to contemporary, avant-garde and cross-disciplinary. His newest CD, Une seule prise/In One Take(accompanied by a beautifully illustrated booklet of photographs and poetry), recorded with award-winning guzheng (Chinese zither) concertist, Fiona Sze-Lorrain, was just released in France this October.Guo now lives in Paris, France, with his wife, pianist Long Long and their daughter. Visit www.guogan.fr
I like every question and answer of this interview, but I would like to particularly quote this one:
“Tell us about the development of erhu music in the contemporary Chinese society, and our world.
Generally speaking, the development of erhu music in China over the past twenty years has been growing fast and steadily. More and more children are learning to play erhu, and of course more amateurs. The problem is that many contemporary erhu performers, i.e. the newer post-Cultural Revolution generation, are “nowhere — neither East nor West.” At the same time that they try to imitate performers from the West, they fail to master what is most Orientally attractive and original about their own culture and tradition. There is a fashion of blindly worshipping the Occident among the young generation, to the extent that they are better at imitating or learning Western artistic expressions than mastering, fine-tuning or learning what belongs to themselves. Piano is a good example.
Erhu music in contemporary Chinese society is threatened by the fact that erhu concerts do not sell in the mainstream culture. Like guzheng (Chinese zither), for instance, it is considered an elite art. Art tastes in the contemporary Chinese society are pretty commercialized. What sells most is popular music by television singers or pop stars. In the world at large, there are now, of course, more professional erhu players spread across the globe. But not all of them persevere in their erhu careers. Many of them, after having led professional careers as musicians in China, opt to do something else once they move abroad. There are many reasons why. Some of them want to earn money, have family obligations, marry and have children, etc. There are at five or six erhu professional players in Paris, for example. Most of them play once in a while for festive celebrations in the Chinese community, just for fun, but they do not venture beyond that. They have their day-jobs, or other careers. Overall, there are now more opportunities for Westerners to appreciate erhu music, but erhu solo concerts are still relatively limited, and real, good erhu players at the concert level with a good understanding of world cultures and sensibilities are hard to come by.
While more Chinese are learning to play the erhu, it is not the case for Westerners, who maintain their enthusiasm for this instrument at the level of appreciation. Unlike the Chinese, the Westerners resist imitating others. Therefore, it is still rather rare that Westerners pick up the instrument and play it, let alone perform it. Besides, audiences do not wish to see a non-Chinese playing a Chinese instrument. There is a stigma somehow. They want the “complete image” of a Chinese playing a Chinese instrument. Everyone easily knows who Beethoven or Schubert is, but no one knows in the Western society (or the Chinese society, for that matters) who the erhu masters are, for example. Perhaps even less than 1% really know who they really are, after all.”
When I was a child, I had an urge to study some Chinese musical instruments like guzheng, but the instrument is too large to carry. I did try Pipa for a few months and gave up. My friend who went to the same teacher and brought her Pipa to the U.S. when she studied there, also gave up after a short practice. I never fancied about erhu because I always thought it was a man’s music instrument, and only old people played erhu! I was a child!What Guo Gan said in the interview has resonated with my thinking about Chinese music instruments, and the younger generation in Hong Kong which is now part of China…neither East or West…I don’t know where this will go. My hope is that we all will learn from each other, and become stronger in our own world of studies, whether it is art, music, or other humanities studies. I wish Guo Gan will play a more important role in the future making Erhu more popular in the Western world. Good luck to you, Guo Gan! We rely on you to bring Chinese music instruments to a different level, so that more people in other parts of the world will be able to appreciate the beautiful music played with these instruments.
This conversation has made me think of the Modern Chinese Art…another conversation next week, my friends.