6ix string orchestra blends music from different cultures
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 18, 2013 20:03
Immersing cultural elements into music is an important concept for Xiang Gao, a professional violinist and music professor at the university. Gao says the colorful melodies of Eastern music inspired him to create a musical collaboration called “6ixwire” which aims to change the way classical music is experienced.
The most important aspect of the project, Gao says, is that it brings together the “erhu,” a two-stringed Chinese violin, and the Western violin.
The 6ixwire project presented a concert called “Six on 6ix,” on both Friday and Saturday, premiering works of critically acclaimed composers, many of whom are affiliated with the university’s music department.
“Audiences witnessed the birth of these pieces for the first time in history,” Gao says. “We commissioned six different composers from multiple countries, who created some really beautiful pieces.”
Gao also composed and performed a piece with Cathy Yang, an international soloist and former professor of music at the China Contemporary Cultural Academy. The two had met at a concert in 2009 and noticed that the erhu and Western violin had the same roots, both formed in Russia. As time progressed, the instruments diverged into separate countries and in hopes to bring together the instruments, Yang and Gao two founded the 6ixwire project, he says.
Their piece, called “6ixth Sense,” was dedicated in memory of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Gao says. He says it includes elements of sweeping, melodic music, which he hopes will express his sorrow and sincere empathy towards the families of the children.
Born and raised in China, Gao says that he has always committed himself to bridging the gap between the Eastern and Western cultures.
“I always think of China as the mother country that gave raised me and instilled values in me,” he says. “And I refer to the United States as my father country who taught me what I know and gave me the opportunity to work. I wanted to find a way to create a closer bond between the two.”
Gao says the unique names of “6ixwire” and “Six on 6ix” came from his desire to find something short and catchy that would attract younger crowds. He says the titles pay homage to the guitar, which is known for its six strings and is regularly used in his compositions.
The pieces they play in the concerts stray from the typical classical music, he says. The recent concert, he says, was made for chamber music pieces and included a string quartet, percussion instruments and piano.
With the support of the Delaware Division of Arts and the College of Arts and Sciences, Gao says he was able to collaborate with other world-class musicians, many of whom were his old colleagues.
“I had worked together with many of the composers,” he says. “So I invited them to join forces with me again. This concert was like a reunion of sorts.”
Among his colleagues and featured composers were Jennifer Margaret Barker, professor of music theory and composition. A director of many musical groups in the area, Barker says her compositions have been performed in the United States, China, Australia and various European countries such as Sweden, Germany, Austria and England.
For the concert, Barker composed a piece called “Snowfeathers,” featuring the erhu, violin, piano and percussion.
In the creative process of her music, Barker says she wanted to emphasize the connection between the two different types of violins.
“Throughout the musical fabric, the erhu and the violin remain intertwined, so the audience can acknowledge the physical and aural similarities of the two instruments,” she says.
Along with the professional musicians that usually perform, Gao says his concerts always try to feature university students. He says it is important to give the students the opportunity to get their foot into the real world of music and performing.
Meredith Bates, a performing cellist and graduate student of music, was one of the student performers Gao asked to participate in the concert. The entire concert was comprised of six pieces, and Bates performed four of them.
“I think it’s interesting for composing students to see which interesting new compositions are out there,” Bates says “But mostly, I like that students can see their own colleagues perform on such a great platform.”
The pieces each had their own themes, but they all combined the erhu, the Western violin, the cello and the piano, while some even had percussion she says. The number that stuck out to her the most was graduate student David Brown’s piece, which was performed in the style of Irish fiddler music, she says.
Bates says the 6ixwire’s concerts provide students like her with extraordinary opportunities to practice music within the university.
Bates says she believes Gao has done a fantastic job of trying to pull together ideas of different cultures and applying it to musical projects.
She says she hopes audiences have taken away with them a new perspective on classical music. Although musicians such as Mozart, Bach and Beethoven are important, classical music is a wide genre with many more variations than the well-known artists, she says.