For last Friday’s weekly convocation, students, faculty and staff did not gather in the usual setting of the chapel, but rather in Carleton’s Concert Hall where an array of musical instruments were lined up on the stage. The crowd came together for a unique convocation presentation entitled, “Asian Fusion: A Celebration of Diversity,” which featured world-renowned Chinese pipa player, composer, and faculty member Gao Hong, as well other top artists from India, Japan, and China.
The convocation performance focused on the work of each individual artist, emphasizing their different cultural backgrounds and musical customs as well as the collaborative process in which the four musicians came together to create a pioneering concert that fused these varying traditions.
Artists that joined Gao Hong in the ensemble included sitarist Shubhenda Rao, a leading disciple of acclaimed sitarist Ravi Shankar; taiko drummer Kenny Endo; and Indian veena player and vocalist Nirmala Rajasekhar. The instrumental mix of varying musical traditions resulted in an original, pan-Asian sound.
Gao Hong, considered a musical prodigy, began her professional career at the age of 12. By 22, she was one of two pipa players to pass the competitive entrance exams at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China’s premier music academy. At the conservatory, Gao Hong studied the traditional Pudong style of performance under distinguished pipa player Lin Shicheng.
After graduation, Gao Hong began a performance career that has taken her around China as well as to Australia, Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States. With a great deal of experience in performing traditional music for solo pipa and Chinese music ensembles, Gao Hong has also expanded her career and has played with symphony orchestras, jazz ensembles, and a number of world musicians.
Gao Hong currently serves as a member of the Carleton music faculty, teaching Chinese instruments, and is a guest artist with the Minnesota States Art Board and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s CONNECT program. Recently, Gao Hong was awarded the position as an honorary guest professor position at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. She is the recipient of an extensive list of awards and honors from arts organizations in both China and the United States. As a composer she has been commissioned by the American Composers Forum, the Jerome Foundation, Twin Cities Public Television, Ragamala Music and Dance Theatre, Walker Art Center, and Theatre Mu.
After the morning performance for convocation, the musicians returned Friday evening and joined local musicians to present a lively cross-cultural concert. Musicians joining the Asian-fusion ensemble included Nicola Melville on piano, Dave Hagedorn on percussion, and Michelle Kinney on the cello.
The unique concerts at Carleton were part of Gao Hong’s spring tour to celebrate her thirty-fifth year of performance on the pipa, which also includes performances in the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing, The Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota, and Carnegie Hall in New York.
Information courtesy of Carleton News.