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15 Questions to Gao Ping

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I am well thank you. I am in Christchurch, New Zealand.

What’s on your schedule right now?
I am writing a string quartet for the NZ str qrt. Then I will get back to my piano concerto, of which I have finished one mov. in shorthand score. It will be launched in 2008. I also have some performances coming up this year, here in NZ, Korea, Japan, and China.

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
Was there a time when there was no crisis? It always exists, only in different degrees. Contemporary music has its own crisis, but it is the same crisis as in many other art forms. One can say that we are over stimulated by information. There is very little room for something subtle and small to surface. The over-flow of information sometimes is what prevent real information from being heard.

What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?
Almost nothing. It only means something when it is put in some kind of meaningful context. Like “he just wrote an excellent new tune.”

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
Composition is made of sound. But sound alone, I feel, can’t always necessarily constitute a composition. Images alone can’t be a film. I think John Cage probably said the opposite. It is wonderful that composers explore sounds, it expands the vocabulary, of course vocabulary is only made meaningful when it is applied in a genuinely artistic way.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
They are an element shared by both, only the focus is different. Compositions can be “improvised”, and improvisation can be “composed”. But of course they are essentially different processes and the results are very different as well. When I use improvisation in my composition (which is rare), I usually need some control over it, in most case the pitch.

How would you define the term “interpretation”?
In terms of performing? Well, it is a vague word. I prefer recreating. Playing a Beethoven sonata is to recreate something, not really an interpretation because interpretation seems to suggest “explaining”, which is not what one can do with Beethoven sonatas performing it.

Harmony? Dissonance? The freedom to choose both, none or just one?

All very relative. I recently was introduced to a very rare field recording of Bu-yi people(south China)’s polyphonic singing. The cadences are always minor-major seconds. It sounded completely harmonious to me.

A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border – and if so, where?
Well, we can’t talk about that without any specific examples.

Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?

It means something different to everyone. Some “popular music” is not popular at all. And some serious works are much lighter than popular works.

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?

Yes, of course. To write music means taking responsibility already. Some choose to comment on the society and some don’t. It depends on the person and their circumstances. What ever is written has a political stance, even if it decides to take none.

True or false: People need to be educated about music, before they can really appreciate it.
Not sure, I think people can feel, and music is made to be felt and heard. So in that way, it is very direct.

True or false: The cultural subsidies doled out by governments are being sent to the wrong kind of people and institutions.
Don’t know enough to comment on that. It often seems as though money in general is spent without intelligence. Again, it doesn’t seem to give enough opportunities to the small and subtle things to surface.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?

Very diverse things. There will be more of the less known works or composers. I personally like to see a mix of older music and newer music. For example: a concert of Janacek’s works like “nursery rhymes” along with Jack Body’s “lullabies” for choir or Shostakovich piano quintet with Frederic Rzewski’s piano quintet (played by the composer), or Takemitsu’s “water ways” with Qu Xiao-Song’s “Cursive”….

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?

No. I wouldn't want to carry that burden.

Chamber Music (2006) Naxos

Gao Ping

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