In the last few years, ZHAO Jiping’s name has often appeared in the program of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, as the composer of Pipa Concerto No. 2 (2013), Violin Concerto No. 1 (2017), the cello concerto for
orchestra Disillusioned Dreams (2018)，and music for drama play LIN Zexu (2019).
Born in 1945, ZHAO Jiping is now over his seventies. Most people at this age are retired, but Zhao is still composing unremittingly. In 2020, Zhao will participate in more collaborative projects with the NCPA as the newly named
Manifesting the heroic spirit OF LIN Zexu’s time
In June 1839, on the shore outside Humen Town of Guangdong, tens of thousands of chests of opium were poured into brine mixed with lime and were destroyed. The “Destruction of Opium at Humen” astonished the whole world, and
LIN Zexu’s name woke the empire out from its dream of long-gone glories.
In December 2019, renowned actor PU Cunxin played the role of LIN Zexu on the stage of the NCPA. The play shows how Lin was dismissed from office because of false charges; how he upheld his country’s interest with his life;
how he eagerly sought the way to make the country strong and prosperous. In the historical story from over a hundred years ago, the image of LIN Zexu, one of the greatest national heroes in history, was presented before
In the 180th anniversary of the Destruction of Opium at Humen, the play LIN Zexu co-produced by the NCPA and Guangzhou Dramatic Art Center was premiered at the NCPA. The production team of the play was impressive, with the
playwright GUO Qihong, director WANG Xiaodi, and prestigious actors including PU Cunxin, XU Fan, HONG Tao, GUO Da and GUAN Dongtian. The performance of these veteran actors was a feast for the eyes. The music was also a
highlight of the play. For example, the “Lute Song” sung by LIN Zexu’s wife ZHENG Shuqing, played by XU fan, is a sad song about the couple who had been married for over thirty years loving and caring about each other at
the historic moment of severe national calamity. It has moved many in the audience to tears. All the scores for the play were composed by renowned composer ZHAO Jiping. “The music essentially needs to bring out the spirit
of the play.” The play LIN Zexu presents multiple characters of complex dispositions in a special historical time. Therefore, its music is rich and varied.
“LIN Zexu is a historical figure that embodies the heroic spirit of the Chinese people. He was a forerunner of his time. While he fought for the nation in the campaign against opium, he also found lessons in Western industrial
civilization.” When ZHAO Jiping composed the motive of LIN Zexu’s theme, he decided that he should not be too conservative. He would keep an open-minded attitude, and he would include in the music a hint of the tragic and
heroic history of the late Qing Dynasty.
Trust in the production of NCPA
The music for the play LIN Zexu was only one of the many highlights of ZHAO Jiping’s collaboration with the NCPA in the last few years.
On the evening of October 10, 2017, in “Symphonic China,” the concert of NCPA’s commissioned works, the concert hall broke out in applause at the last note of ZHAO Jiping’s Violin Concerto No. 2. Although in the form of western
music, the piece has integrated a myriad of Chinese elements. The interpretation of violinist NING Feng and the China NCPA Orchestra gave full expression of the profound and complicated emotions of the piece. When ZHAO
Jiping heard the theme that had fermented in his mind for more than ten years, the musician who had composed over a thousand works could not hold back his tears. Before long, the China NCPA Orchestra embarked on the tour
to North America with this piece, which was highly praised at every stop.
The Violin Concerto No. 1 was commissioned by the NCPA, so were some other compositions of ZHAO Jiping such as the Pipa Concerto No. 2 (2013) and the cello concerto for orchestra Disillusioned Dreams (2018).
“Every collaboration with the NCPA was pleasant,” said ZHAO Jiping. “The artistic standard of the NCPA is not just the highest in China; it is among the highest in the world.” The NCPA provides a great space for promoting Chinese
composers. ZHAO Jiping remembered how the Pipa Concerto No. 2 was performed by various major orchestras soon after its premiere. The Violin Concerto No. 1 also became a popular piece for concerts.
People contacted him by different means to show their interests in performing the pieces. The CD and vinyl record of Disillusioned Dreams released by the NCPA were greatly appreciated by fans. “The platform of the NCPA guarantees
the dissemination of the works. “This fills me with the desire and passion for creation.”
Many composers’ concern is whether the charm of their new works can be fully exhibited.
Qigang Chen once compared the composer to the parent of his or her composition. “The parent can’t help much once the work is given out.” The child that the composer brought to the world through hard work might be interpreted
by the conductor and performers in a perfect or imperfect way. It might be completely forgotten or never be presented to the audience. The composer “can’t help much” about it.
ZHAO Jiping never worries about this when he cooperates with the China NCPA Orchestra. “Knowing that my work will be performed by the NCPA Orchestra, I feel at ease when I compose. I can give full reign to my imagination, like
a painter waving his brush freely. I'm not technically restrained. Every part of the orchestra can do an excellent job and can always bring new surprises in the performance.” Composers sometimes take the interpretation
far more seriously than many people may think.
In many people’s eyes, seventy-five is the age to play with grandchildren and to enjoy retirement. Yet ZHAO Jiping keeps working at this age. Every day after breakfast, he sits behind the desk and composes honestly for over
three hours. While the young people are already used to the computer, Zhao insists on writing every note on paper with his hand. “The feeling is not right when I stare at the screen.” Zhao prefers the process of composing
with the tip of the pen moving on paper. The neat staff paper and the solid touch of the pen give him a pure pleasure. After over fifty years, Zhao’s heart is still filled with happiness when he holds the pen to compose.
His submission is never delayed. His scores will be given to the orchestra a month or two before the appointed day. Music and composition have been integrated into ZHAO Jiping’s blood, and writing has become his instinct.
Composing good Chinese music pleasant to the ears of the audience
For decades, especially from the beginning of the new century on, the development of symphonic music in China has attracted worldwide attention. A significant number of symphonic orchestras have been founded. Modern concert
buildings have popped up across the country. The number of students in music has been multiplied. Yet the embarrassing fact is that only the same few pieces are played in concerts while the options for Chinese pieces remain
the few works such as the Butterfly Lovers Concerto and the Yellow River Concerto . Why can’t we hear more music that can deeply move us? The lack of young Chinese musicians and new works of Chinese music has become a concern
for many people. The NCPA Young Composer Program held every other year is one of the many efforts to address the concern in the circle of music.
What kind of works of Chinese music will find favor with the audience? It is hard for people to have a unanimous answer to the question at a time when artistic tastes are becoming increasingly diverse.
ZHAO Jiping believes that “music well-received by the audience is music pleasant to their ears.” One of his secrets is integrating elements extracted from national and folk music with new composing techniques.
The younger generation might not be able to imagine that the kind and elegant master whose hair is snowy white at the temples had his rebellious and passionate years. When Zhao composed the music for the film Red Sorghum ,
he wanted to use 45 suona horns in unison. His teacher threw a wet blanket on him before he entered the recording studio, calling his idea reckless because nobody had done anything like that in the history of Chinese film
music. The sound engineer had to remind Zhao repeatedly that the volume of the sound was beyond the range of the equipment before he decided to reduce the number of suona to 36. These 36 suona horns along with four shengs
and one large Chinese drum, imitate the shouting of human voices and form a basic musical unit that corresponds to the fervent tone of the film. The theme song “Sister, be bold and walk on” is also an unusual work, which
combines the work song of Shaanxi and the style of the painted characters’ arias from the Qinqiang opera. “Sister, be bold and walk on. Walk on, and don’t look back.” The line sings the praise of the wild passion in the
sorghum field and manifests the indomitable will and courage of the young people.
“There are no set rules for art. It is dull to repeat what has been done before.” In those years, ZHAO Jiping was seen as an avant-garde like the controversial fifth-generation directors, who received a great amount of comments,
both negative and positive.
Yet no matter how avant-garde and how varied his music might be, ZHAO Jiping is deeply rooted in the nation’s tradition. In his music for the film Yellow Earth , Zhao employed a great number of folk songs of Shaanxi.
In Farewell My Concubine , he integrated the jinghu fiddle and the Beijing opera percussion into symphonic music. ZHAO Jiping’s symphonic works of the last few years also feature distinctive characteristics of Chinese national
music. He composes for national musical instruments such as pipa and draws materials from Chinese classics. These elements in his music have an intimate bond with the heart of the Chinese audience.
“Life is the source of art.” This is the life-time belief that ZHAO Jiping inherited from his father ZHAO Wangyun, one of the founding members of the Chang’an School of Chinese painting. He was specialized in portraying the
landscape as well as the work and life of people from different ethnic groups in Shaanxi.
In 1963, ZHAO Jiping, who was still in high school, started collecting folk music in Northern Shaanxi. After graduation from Xi’an Conservatory of Music in 1970, ZHAO Jiping was assigned to a job at the Shaanxi Institute of
Music Drama. During the 21 years when he worked there, he visited every district and every county of Yan’an and Yulin and studied intensively regional music drama and other forms of folk music.
When he was in the office of the president of Xi’an Conservatory of Music, ZHAO Jiping organized a special team to rescue the disappearing folk art by recording and filming what they found in the fields and villages.
With decades of life among the people, ZHAO Jiping understands very well what music they are listening to and what music they would love. His music, at once amiable and majestic, is like the land under our feet. This might
be something lacking in the young composers whose works are too highbrow to be popular.
Good Chinese music should not only find favor with the Chinese audience but also be introduced to the whole world for broader recognition and appreciation. In 1980, ZHAO Jiping composed the Silk Road Fantasia Suite for guanzi
and orchestra. Forty years later, this piece is still often performed. A French saxophonist has a passion for this piece and can play the staccato and glissando of the guanzi on the saxophone. ZHAO Jiping was once amazed
by a Belgian cellist’s performance of Disillusioned Dreams. She had spent a long time studying the part imitating the Chinese guqin in the piece and presented it successfully.
“Chines music is internationally recognized when it is performed and studied by people from other countries,” said ZHAO Jiping. “We are not imposing our music on others. They wish to understand our music because of their interest.
What is good music? It is the music loved by the Chinese audience as well as an audience from other countries. It is the music that serves both Chinese musicians and musicians from other countries. It’s as simple as that.