The Music of Gao Hong - A Celebration of 50 Years of Making Music With Friends
Congratulatory Letters from
Professor, Central Conservatory of Music
President, World Music Society of the China Musicians Association
（Translated by Sophie Liu-Othmer）
Gao Hong began learning the pipa at the age of eight. In 1985 she graduated from Hebei Art School and stayed on to teach there. From 1986 to 1990 she studied in the Folk Music Department of the Central Conservatory of Music, under the tutelage of the famous pipa grandmaster, Lin Shicheng. After graduation she moved to Japan to study Japanese biwa for one year. Since then, she has performed in the United States and around the world, and currently teaches at Carleton College in Minnesota.
Gao Hong is certainly an expert in Chinese pipa music, but she has a broader global perspective and a wide interest in diverse world music. To experience different musical cultures and their instruments, she has learned to hold dialogues by mixing and integrating her pipa with masters of the Indian sitar and veena, Arabian oud, Japanese shakuhachi, American banjo, western bassoon, violin, clarinet, and others. She collaborates and performs with a wide variety of musicians, including performers of Irish music, bluegrass, jazz, and the blues. This has greatly expanded the influence of traditional Chinese music on audiences, and has helped to embed it in mainstream western music, instead of being limited to predominantly Chinese audiences.
Her "Morning" performance with Indian sitar player Shubhendra Rao is a significant accomplishment, because when Indian music master Ravi Shankar visited China in 1983 he told me that his sitar and violin collaboration with western music master Yehudi Menuhin was like "East Meets West". His use of this phrase triggered a sensation. He then shared that he felt the next step should be when “East Meets East", and he hoped to play the sitar with the Chinese pipa or guzheng. For various reasons, his dream did not come true.
However, in 1997, Gao Hong and Ravi Shankar's student, Shubhendra Rao, used the pipa and sitar to perform an Indian raga called "Morning". Ravi Shankar said it was "the best cross-cultural music I have ever heard". It can be said that it has been affirmed and appreciated by Ravi Shankar as a successful "East Meets East" example, which should be noted in the history books.
These cross-cultural works performed by Gao Hong often do not have musical scores, but after lengthy experimentation and practice, she has acquired a high level of improvisational skills, which are difficult for ordinary performers to achieve.
Gao Hong is also a composer. She was commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra to compose the pipa concerto Guangxi Impression, by the Minnesota Sinfonia to compose the overture Celebration, by the Minneapolis Pops Orchestra for her pipa and violin double concerto Green Willow Tree, and by the Kenwood Symphony Orchestra the pipa and bassoon double concerto Reminiscences of My Hometown. In the online international music festival held by the Central Conservatory of Music to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, she composed and performed her Impressions of the Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven. All of these works have been successfully premiered.
Another important component of her identity is that of an educator. She has worked in the music department of Carleton College (nicknamed Little Harvard) for 21 years, serving as the director of the Carleton Chinese Music Ensemble and the Carleton Global Music Chamber Ensemble. She was also instrumental in establishing a program in which a student at Carleton College can use a Chinese musical instrument as their major instrument to achieve a major or minor in music for a Bachelor of Arts degree. This was the first opportunity of its kind in an American institution of higher education.
In 2016, Gao Hong also authored the book, Chinese Pipa Method, which was written in English, published by Hal Leonard, and sold in more than 50 countries. This may also be the first of its kind in the world.
Gao Hong has been in the United States for more than 20 years and has won numerous awards for her outstanding contributions to music. I will not list her awards and honors here. (translator’s note: See Gao Hong's Awards and Honors)
Gao Hong had an excellent rapport with her mentor Lin Shicheng (1922-2005), and she is devoted to Master Lin. Lin Shicheng carefully nurtured and guided her, both professionally and in health. When she was ill, Master Lin -- who was also a Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor -- diagnosed and prescribed medicine for her.
In 1996, the "Lin Shicheng and Gao Hong Teacher-Student Concert" was successfully premiered in Beijing and then performed during their two-month tour in the United States. A teacher-student pipa album titled Hunting Eagles Catching Swans was produced. Lin Shicheng was very satisfied with the recording and hoped to release it to the world.
In 2020, after Gao Hong contacted the British ARC Music (a leading record label and publisher in the field of world and folk music, translator’s note), it rereleased the album in more than 50 countries around the world in September of the same year. The album won two gold medals respectively for Best Album and Best Instrumentals from the Global Music Awards (http://www.blobalmusicawards.com, translator’s note). Lin's wish was fulfilled.
The album contains a total of 10 pieces of music, among which "Ambush in All Directions", "Hunting Eagles Catching the Swan", and "Autumn Thoughts" are solo performances by Master Lin Shi Cheng. "Dragon Boat", "Chen Xing Yuan Placates the Tribesmen", "King Xiang Yu Takes off His Armor" and "Wild Geese Alighting on a Sandy Beach" are Gao Hong's solo performances. "Three Six", "In the Style of Xing Jie Si He", and "Moonlight Over the Spring River" were teacher-student duets by Master Lin and Gao Hong.
I listened to the album over and over again and appreciated these classic works. What amazed me most was that Grand Master Lin was already at an advanced age when he made the recording, but his skill was superb, the sound was beautiful, and the taste was unique. In the music, his performance was incisive and vivid, and it is truly a work by a grandmaster.
As a true disciple of Master Lin, Gao Hong fully inherited her teacher's skills, style, and tradition. Her performance of these famous pieces is outstanding, and the duets are even more harmonious and integrated to attain the highest level.
2022年 2月14日 写于北京
February. 14, 2022， Beijing