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Gao Hong Biography

SHORT BIOGRAPHY

Gao Hong graduated from Beijing’s elite Central Conservatory of Music. Since coming to the United States, she has performed at the Lincoln Center Festival, Carnegie Hall, the San Francisco Jazz Festival, Smithsonian, and at festivals in Paris, Caen, Milan, and Perth. She has presented concertos for the pipa with the Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Heidelberg Philharmonic, the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, the China National Traditional Orchestra, Guangdong National Traditional Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra, Hawaii Symphony, and the Women’s Philharmonic (San Francisco), among others. In 2017 she became the first Chinese musician to play the National Anthem at an NBA basketball game when she did so on pipa for the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis.

Gao Hong has received numerous top awards and honors in China and U.S. In 2005 Gao Hong became the first traditional musician to be awarded the prestigious Bush Artist Fellowship, and in 2019 she became the only musician in any genre to win five McKnight Artist Fellowships for Performing Musicians. As a 2018 Sally Award winner, Gao Hong was honored at the Ordway Center for her commitment to the arts. She is the author of the first pipa method book written in English that was published and distributed worldwide by Hal Leonard, the world’s largest music print publisher.

Gao’s most recent recording of live compositions/improvisations, Alondra, recorded with an Argentinian flamenco guitarist at Abbey Road Studio in London, was released on February 23th, 2024. In 2022, she albums with kora master Kadialy Kouyate (Terri Kunda) and oudist Issam Rafea, (From Our World to Yours). All three albums won two gold medals apiece from the Global Music Awards, and were released worldwide on the ARC Music label in the UK. The Gao Hong and Issam Rafea Duo was also chosen out of over 3000 entries by indie star Phoebe Bridgers to appear on NPR’s Tiny Desk Top Shelf Contest #2 episode. In 2021 ARC re-released the highly acclaimed album Hunting Eagles Catching Swans featuring Gao Hong and her mentor, the great pipa master Lin Shicheng. The album also won two gold medals from the Global Music Awards (Best Album and Instrumental) and was Songlines magazine’s pick for "The Best New Albums From Around the World.” Terri Kunda was listed "Top of the World" album in Songlines magazine in May 2023.

As a composer, she has received commissions from the Minnesota Orchestra, The President's Own United States Marine Band, American Composers Forum, Walker Art Center, the Jerome Foundation, Minneapolis Pops Orchestra, Minnesota Sinfonia, Kenwood Symphony Orchestra, Civic Orchestra of Minneapolis, Zeitgeist, Ragamala Music and Dance Theater, Theater Mu, IFTPA, Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, The Cedar, Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council, and Twin Cities Public Television for the six-part series "Made in China." Other symphony orchestras performing her compositions include the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, Minneapolis Pops, Rochester Symphony, Acadiana Symphony (Louisiana), Oshkosh Symphony, St. Olaf College Orchestra, and the University of Iowa Symphony. The Sorel Organization in NYC awarded her a Medallion Recording Grant to support an album of her compositions, and Meet the Composer Inc. in NYC awarded her Creative Connections grants and MetLife Creative Connections grants. Her composition for solo pipa, Flying Dragon, won a 2012 Global Music Award - Award of Excellence Solo Instrumental (Gold Medal).

In 2022, Mayor Melvin Carter of St. Paul proclaimed April 3, 2022 to be “Gao Hong Day in the City of St. Paul” in honor of Gao Hong’s milestone concert at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts - “50 YEARS OF MAKING MUSIC WITH FRIENDS”. This concert was featured on American Public Media’s Performance Today® hosted by Fred Child.

Gao teaches at Carleton College and directors Chinese Music Ensemble. She is also Guest Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music, China Conservatory of Music, and Tianjin Conservatory of Music. She is a Board member for the American Composers Forum and Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, and is a Recording Academy Voting Member for the Grammys and Governor to the Board for the Recording Academy’s Chicago Chapter and Co-Chair of Songwriters and Composers Wing Committee.

As a chamber player, she was featured as both pipa player and composer at ChamberFest Cleveland, Yellow Barn Music Festival, Carolina Chamber Music Festival, Harbin Summer Music Festival, Pittsburgh Early Music Festival, OPEN SPACE New Music Festival and others.

In addition to Gao Hong’s own solo performances of her compositions worldwide, her music has been performed internationally by many world class musicians. In 2000, Song of the Pipa, a play based on Gao Hong’s life and the life of Chinese poet, Bai Juyi, received 20 performances by Theater Mu and featured live musical accompaniment and new compositions by Gao Hong. In 2007 her first choral composition - “The Coming of Spring” - was one of five pieces selected out of 128 applicants nationwide for a reading session by VocalEssence. The piece was premiered by VocalEssence at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. "Awakening" - her commissioned piece from the Jerome Foundation - was premiered by Gao Hong and Speaking in Tongues at Muziekgebouw aan het IJ in Amsterdam. She was also selected to participate in a composer’s workshop hosted by the new music ensemble, Zeitgeist, and premiered her new composition “Courage” - for pipa and percussion - with Present Music in Milwaukee. In 2016 Gao Hong composed her first, mixed-media comedic performance piece, “Gao Hong on the Highway” and in 2017 she composed her second mixed-media comedic perforamnce piece "Chinglish" and Guangxi Caprice for Pipa and String Quartet.

Since her arrival in U.S. in 1994, Gao Hong has been featured in over 100 newspaper and magazine articles and four television documentaries. Her broadcast features include ABC's "On the Road Again" with Jason Davis, MPR "The Joy of Pipa" hosted by Karl Gehrke and The CBS Radio KMOX 1120 Charlie Brennan Show in St Louis. She has presented hundreds of educational workshops for elementary through college-age students.

China's foremost music publication, "People's Music," wrote of Gao Hong that "like the famous Luoyang peony, she has gradually emerged as the best of all beautiful flowers...her performance has extremely strong artistic appeal and belongs under the category of 'fine wine'...the more you listen, the more beautiful it gets..."

“For over 50 years. Gao Hong’s music has inspired and moved countless numbers of people around the globe. As one of the premiere pipa players in the world, Gao Hong’s illustrative career is filled with accomplishments as a musician, composer and educator.” – Amy Klobuchar, United States Senator.

Biography

When she was small, Gao Hong's fellow musicians nicknamed her the "little black kitten." That was in honor of her face, which was often speckled with soot when her friends woke up in the morning. By then, Gao Hong had usually put in two hours practicing the pipa in the furnace room, the only place she could use without waking her colleagues in a provincial song and dance troupe in north central China. When she smiled, the flecks of coal soot would form tiny wrinkles around her eyes, giving her a cat-like appearance. Although only 12, Gao Hong was an intense performer. She also was a lonely little girl, having left her family in the ancient Chinese capital of Luoyang and moved 400 miles away to Heibei Province to begin her career. There were a lot of quiet tears at night, but she fully understood that it was an opportunity for her amidst the chaos created by the Cultural Revolution. Her father, a government official and landowner, had been blacklisted and sent to a rural area to learn from the peasants and that eventually led to a divorce. Gao Hong's mother held the family together as a music teacher, but when Gao Hong joined the troupe it eased the strain on the family budget. After three years with the traveling troupe, Gao Hong went to an arts school where she could resume her neglected education and still practice and perform. When she was 22, she was one of two pipa players who survived a myriad of tests to become a student at China's premier school of music, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she studied with pipa master Lin Shicheng. After getting a bachelor's degree she became a soloist for the Beijing Song and Dance Troupe, which performed throughout the country. It also made a fateful trip, for Gao Hong, to Tokyo. After hearing her play, the owner of a Japanese booking agency asked her to return as a solo performer.

In 1994 Gao Hong made her first tour of the United States. She made appearances in ten cities throughout the country, including New York City, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Denver, and Minneapolis. There have been other tours since including one with her mentor, Lin Shicheng, China's master of the traditional Pudong style of playing the pipa. Lin, who was 74, had never performed with a student except his son, but Gao Hong was always a special student to him. Lin visited his star pupil in 1996 and they performed together in Beijing, Honolulu, Seattle and several places in Minnesota. That collaboration also produced a CD, Hunting Eagles Catching Swans, which has received critical acclaim in Europe, China, and the United States. Gao Hong has been back to China yearly, but her 1996 trip was special. She played at the Beijing Concert Hall with her mentor, Lin Shicheng, before over 1,000 people, including pipa players from throughout the country and much of Beijing's music literati. A critic from Peoples' Music, China's foremost music publication, wrote of Gao Hong that "like the famous Luoyang peony, she has gradually emerged as the best of all beautiful flowers...her performance has extremely strong artistic appeal and belongs under the category of 'fine wine'...the more you listen, the more beautiful it gets."

Gao Hong has taken the pipa into uncharted performance territory. Besides playing solo or with the traditional Chinese music ensembles The Spirit of Nature or The Beijing Trio, Gao also performs with jazz musicians and musicians from other cultures. She has appeared at major festivals and concert halls worldwide, including Lincoln Center, the Smithsonian Institution, Festival of Perth in Australia, Festival d'Automne a Paris, and the Festival de Teatro d'Europa Milan. Gao also toured internationally with the Lincoln Center production of The Peony Pavilion. Gao Hong has performed with symphony orchestras both here and abroad. Her performances of pipa concerti with symphony orchestras include several world, U.S., and regional premieres and performances wit the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Heidelberg Philharmonic, Buenos Aires Philharmonic, China National Traditional Orchestra, China Guangdong National Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra, Hawaii Symphony, Pasadena Symphony, and the Women’s Philharmonic (San Francisco), among others. As a chamber player, she was featured as both pipa player and composer at ChamberFest Cleveland, Yellow Barn Music Festival, Carolina Chamber Music Festival, Harbin Summer Music Festival, Pittsburgh Early Music Festival and others. In 2017 she became the first Chinese musician to play the National Anthem at a Minnesota Timberwolves NBA game at Target Center in Minneapolis.

Since moving to the United States in the mid-1990s, Gao Hong has earned a reputation as a tireless and enthusiastic educator. She founded the Hua Yin Children's Chinese Music Ensemble in the basement of her home. Soon the Ensemble found a new home at the MacPhail Center for the Arts in Minneapolis. She has taught at MacPhail Center for the Arts and Metropolitan State University in Minnesota and has appeared as a guest lecturer at numerous colleges and universities throughout the country. In 2016, Gao Hong completed the first pipa method book ever written in English and had it published by Hal Leonard. She is currently teaching Chinese music instruments and directing a Chinese Music Ensemble at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. She is Guest Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music, China Conservatory of Music, Tianjin Conservatory of Music, and Hebei Vocational Arts College. She is a member of the Board of Directors at the American Composers Forum and Minnesota Citizens for the Arts. Gao Hong is also a founding member of the professional Chinese music ensembles The Spirit of Nature and The Beijing Trio.

In January 1997, Gao Hong became the first Chinese musician to be awarded an Artist Assistance Fellowship from the Minnesota State Arts Board. The same year she was also awarded a McKnight Artist Fellowship for Performing Musicians, a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant, and an Asian-Pacific Award. In 1998, she was Included in Peoples' Publishing's Dictionary of Chinese Musicians. In 2000, she was awarded A LIN (Leadership Initiatives in Neighborhoods) Grant from The St. Paul Companies and performed and composed music for play Song of the Pipa, a Theater Mu production based on Gao Hong's own life story and the life of Bai Juyi. In 2019 she was awarded a fifth McKnight Artist Fellowship for Performing Musicians, becoming the first musician in any genre to win the award five times. In 2005, she was the first traditional musician awarded the distinguished Bush Artist Fellowship for Traditional and Folk Arts. In 2018 she became the first Chinese musician to win a Sally Award from the Ordway Center for Performing Arts. In 2022, Mayor Melvin Carter of St. Paul proclaimed April 3, 2022 to be “Gao Hong Day in the City of St. Paul” in honor of Gao Hong’s milestone concert at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts - “50 YEARS OF MAKING MUSIC WITH FRIENDS”. This concert was featured on American Public Media’s Performance Today® hosted by Fred Child. While in China, Gao was awarded First Prize in the 1984 Heibei Professional Young Music Performers Competition and a 1989 International Art Cup in Beijing.

Gao’s most recent recording of live compositions/improvisations, Alondra, recorded with an Argentinian flamenco guitarist at Abbey Road Studio in London, was released on February 23th, 2024. In 2022, she albums with kora master Kadialy Kouyate (Terri Kunda) and oudist Issam Rafea, (From Our World to Yours). All three albums won two gold medals apiece from the Global Music Awards, and were released worldwide on the ARC Music label in the UK. The Gao Hong and Issam Rafea Duo was also chosen out of over 3000 entries by indie star Phoebe Bridgers to appear on NPR’s Tiny Desk Top Shelf Contest #2 episode. In 2021 ARC re-released the highly acclaimed album Hunting Eagles Catching Swans featuring Gao Hong and her mentor, the great pipa master Lin Shicheng. The album also won two gold medals from the Global Music Awards (Best Album and Instrumental) and was Songlines magazine’s pick for "The Best New Albums From Around the World.” Terri Kunda was listed "Top of the World" album in Songlines magazine in May 2023. .

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