North American Guqin Association

World Premiere of “From Beijing to San Francisco”

Nov 19-22, 2009, CounterPULSE San Francisco


The world premiere of “From Beijing to San Francisco” – a newly commissioned multi-disciplinary work for the guqin developed by Wang Fei, the Founder and Director of NAGA – was performed to great critical acclaim in the Performing Diaspora Festival at CounterPULSE in San Francisco on four consecutive nights from November 19 to 22, 2009. It was well received and played to a full house almost every day.

Wang Fei combines her unique talents as a guqin player and writer, using a narrative poem based on her own story to illustrate the fate of the guqin and reflect on the rapid changes in China over three decades. From the Cultural Revolution in the 70's, when the guqin was considered one of the “Old Four Evils”; through China's Open Door Policy in the 80's, when Western culture upstaged traditional culture, and culminating in China's explosive economic development in the 90's and the 21st century .

Highlights of this new work

1.      The show uses a new work to explore how a cultural heritage survives in a globalized environment, and how traditional art challenges the contemporary audience. The new work combines storytelling, poetry recital, multimedia projection, guqin, xiao, and various percussion instruments.

2.      This is the first guqin work to touch on a recent historical period. It is especially significant because it reveals what happened to the guqin during and after the Cultural Revolution.

3.      The style of the English poem recital was adapted from Chinese opera technique and the four tones of Mandarin, and breaks the flow of the words into a rhythm and pace appropriate to guqin music.

4.      The guqin music used combines excerpts from traditional guqin masterpieces with newly composed guqin pieces and improvisation. The style varies from traditional through contemporary to experimental, and uses both Chinese and Western forms to match specific lines of the poem. The lighting, staging and costumes also use traditional Chinese elements combined with modern design, making the audience feel that sometimes something very ancient can also be very new and modern.

Wang Fei's guqin teacher, Professor Li Xiangting, one of today's leading guqin masters and declared by the Chinese Ministry of Culture as a Living National Treasure, traveled from Beijing especially to support the new work. Professor Li improvised on both the guqin and the xiao; his playing was deeply emotional and perfectly complemented Wang Fei's equally dynamic playing. Wang Fei's student Kwan Wong accompanied them on the xiao and various percussion instruments, effectively punctuating the narrative and creating an evocative atmosphere. Three generations of guqin players were united on the same stage for the first time. The music transitioned from one to another seamlessly, demonstrating an instinctive and mutual understanding that perfectly illustrates the close relationship between teacher and student in the guqin tradition.

The visual aspect of the production was no less stunning than the music and poetry. An elegant backdrop projection fused images of the Forbidden City, the Golden Gate Bridge and a brush painting of a lady playing the guqin. The show began with a dimly lit stage with flickering candles surrounding the qin table. As Wang Fei reminisced about her experiences in China, the lighting became a dramatic red glow, highlighting the ethereal quality of her ancient style costume. The show came to a conclusion as the audience was transported back to present day San Francisco – the faint blue glow which evoked moonlight faded out as the deep resonating tone of a gong slowly died away.

In a recent interview, Wang Fei emphasized the importance of promoting the guqin in new and innovative ways to different communities, in this case specifically to the modern dance community at CounterPULSE, “In this new work, I want to repackage the ancient tradition of the guqin to attract a new generation who might otherwise never have the opportunity to hear this instrument.”

Here are some quotes from the feedback we received:

·        “This project uses a new language to demonstrate the full expressive capabilities of the guqin. It is the best innovation and experimental project on the guqin I have seen so far. I highly recommend it and will continue to support it. ” — Professor Li Xiangting

·        “Wang Fei is taking the some of the bravest risks in the festival!” — Roko Kawai, Program Coordinator

·        “Beautiful, mesmerizing and poignant.” — Jessica Robinson Love, Executive Director of the Performing Diaspora Festival

·        ”Everyone was captivated. We love the simplicity of the staging, but the drama is rich and deep and not simple at all. Just wonderful.” — audience member

·        “The poem is very moving and the stage, lighting and costume is amazing, dramatic, and powerful by itself; the imagination of the audience is very strong.” — audience member

 “From Beijing to San Francisco” is made possible by support from CounterPULSE, Zellerbach Family Foundation, H & F Hewlett Foundation, Meet the Composer, The Patsy Lu Fund and Open Meadows, and friends of the North American Guqin Association. Special thanks to Sanford Tom, Lindy Mark, Julian Joseph, Christopher Evans and Yan Lange as well as all the staff of CounterPulse. Without all of your support, this project could not be what it is today.



The Patsy Lu Fund and

North American Guqin Association

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