DISCOVER ARTISTS SUBMITTING TO 10TH IMAS: Zhao Jiazhen

DISCOVER ARTISTS SUBMITTING TO 10TH IMAS: Zhao Jiazhen

Chinese Traditional Qin player Zhao Jiazhen has joined The 10th Independent Music Awards. Check out her interview here!

HOMEBASE: Beijing, China
GENRE: Chinese Traditional
CATEGORY ENTERED: World Traditional Album
ALBUM SUBMITTED: Masterpieces of the Chinese Qin from the Tang Dynasty to Today
LABEL: Rhymoi Music

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BEGIN PLAYING THE CHINESE QIN?
I received a traditional Chinese education, it was important to learn at least one classical musical instrument. The Qin represented for me the spirit of Chinese music, so that was my choice. My father also played the Qin and he was my first teacher. I later attended the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing where I studied with the master Li Xiangting – one of the greatest 20th century Qin performers and teachers! (Jiazhen now teaches as Professor of Guqin (or Qin) at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.)

WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE QIN?
The Qin is a very simple instrument in its construction, but the ancient masters had a deep understanding of acoustics and instilled each of their instruments with deep mystical symbolism and meaning. Even the dimensions of the ancient Qin were calculated to represent the mathematical proportions of heaven and earth. I own several instruments – I prefer those from the Ming Dynasty but for every day performance, I use some very fine modern “Confucius Model” Qin. These are very flexible and capable of expressing repertoire from many different styles and periods.

“The Moon Represents My Heart”

WHAT DOES TRADITION & TRADITIONAL MUSIC MEAN TO YOU?
Traditional music is part of my life, every day I play the Qin – it is essential to my personal happiness. Very early in my life I developed an interest in traditional Chinese culture, including Chinese calligraphy and painting, but it was the music which was irresistible to me. I also learned the violin and other Western instruments when I was a child. I still enjoy Western classical music, but it was the sound of the Qin that fascinated me! I consider myself very lucky to have found this beautiful, ancient instrument – it has become a part of my life.

Not very long ago, the Qin and almost all of China’s ancient and traditional arts were on the verge of extinction. Many have been rescued and revived but today, with everyone seeking excitement and wanting to get rich, tradition is being threatened once again. I hope my music is an antidote to the anxiety and confusion people encounter in their daily lives. I am very proud of my culture and its ancient traditions. The music of the Qin is still has meaning, even in today’s world, perhaps, this ancient, spiritual, intimate sound is even needed more urgently today than when it was first performed.

As a modern performer of a very ancient instrument, I feel the weight of tradition on my shoulders! The Qin is the most ancient Chinese instrument, with music dating back thousands of years… but as a creative artist, I have always felt the need to explore new forms of expression – not just repeat the same venerated classics over and over. So, I frequently engage in collaborations with other contemporary artists, using the traditional Qin in a very modern context. My classical style is based in the Yushan School of Qin playing . The “Yushan School” was founded by Yan Cheng (1547-1625) and became the most popular and influential style of playing during the Qing Dynasty. My non-classical collaborations explore many different genre and style – from New Age to experimental performances.

DESCRIBE YOUR LATEST RELEASE.
My latest recording, “Qin” is my personal favorite and I feel it is my most successful album. It was extremely challenging to record on six different instruments – each one has its own unique sounds and feels so differently under the fingers. For an instrument as intimate as the qin, this is not easy to do. I feel that I am playing the best I ever have – and I hope this comes through on the CD. Rhymoi Music provided me with some of the best engineers and recording equipment in China – this is very unusual for recordings of traditional music. Everything worked together so perfectly. The program was very carefully chosen, including many of the classics of the Qin repertoire as well as some less familiar pieces and even a contemporary composition. It is a thrilling demonstration of what the Qin is capable of doing.

WHAT ARTISTS WERE FEATURED ON YOUR RELEASE?
Two fabulous traditional musicians join me on “Qin”: Du Cong and Li Congnong. Du Cong is a master of all varieties of traditional Chinese flutes! The essential chamber music ensemble in Chinese traditional music is the Qin and an end-blown bamboo flute called the “Xiao.” This intimate duet represented the highest level of musical sophistication for the Chinese literati. The music performed by Xiao and Qin was not so much a duet as it was a simultaneous composition by two musicians seeking a deep musical unity. Li Congnong is one of the greatest living percussionists in China! He performs EVERYTHING from folk music to the most modern and contemporary music. China has an extraordinary history of percussion music, so to master so many instruments is really extraordinary! He even plays guitar!

Guangling Melody

YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO PLAY SOME VERY OLD INSTRUMENTS ON YOUR ALBUM (INSTRUMENTS LOANED TO YOU FROM RARE COLLECTIONS AT CONSERVATORIES TO PRIVATE COLLECTIONS.)
Yes, this CD features instruments from the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties as well as my modern instrument – using such different instruments was a very great challenge!

I also perform on a 1500-year-old Tang Dynasty instrument. It is impossibly rare to find such an ancient instrument so well preserved. I was very impressed with the 900-year-old Song Dynasty instrument, it was also in very good condition and the sound was very pure. The Yuan Dynasty Qin, while not the most ancient instrument was even more rare then the others. The Yuan Dynasty was full of wars and cultural upheavals, so finding such a well-preserved specimen is rare. The sound is bright in the upper registers and resonant in the bass. Perhaps my favorite was the Ming Dynasty Qin. This instrument represents the school of Qin that I was trained in – the “Yushan School.” To perform on this instrument was a very important and emotional experience. By the Qing Dynasty, the Qin tradition began to fall into decadence – finding authentic instruments that are still playable can be very difficult, but I have been lucky to have access to an outstanding specimen. The sound is really perfect. The modern instrument I perform on is my own, so this was very comfortable and natural for me.

DID ANYONE HELP FUND THIS PROJECT?
While the Guqin (modern Qin) is part of China’s intangible cultural heritage – and there are many concerts and lectures sponsored by the government – my recording for Rhymoi Music was entirely funded by the recording label and the generous loan of priceless cultural relics from the collections of private owners, and the Central Conservatory.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO SUBMIT YOUR MUSIC TO THE 10TH IMAS?
It was suggested to me by an American colleague. He spoke very highly of The IMAs – telling me they were different from some other awards because they were very supportive of original artists with unique projects. I also visited your website and was very impressed. I believe that the Qin is one of the most important musical representatives of Chinese civilization. I have devoted my life to making the Qin better known around the world, so it is an honor to participate in the IMAs; I have already won many awards in China, but for a Chinese traditional musician to receive recognition OUTSIDE China… that is a real accomplishment!

HOW DOES THE DESIGN OF YOUR ALBUM ART AND MERCHANDISE VISUALLY SUPPORT YOUR MUSIC?
Ha! I only provided the content, the label, Rhymoi Music did everything else! However, I am very pleased with the packaging – it is very classic and high quality. The English notes are well written and help listeners not familiar with the Qin or its music develop an understanding. A lot of recordings of traditional Chinese music are not very well presented – this even happens with very important musicians. So it is very satisfying to have a recording of my music presented so professionally and attractively packaged.

WHO IS SITTING IN YOUR AUDIENCE?
In general, my audience is broadly represented across many different age and social groups. I am fortunate to be a relatively well-known performer, so in general, my audience consists of those people who study, or like the Chinese traditional culture.

WHAT MAKES YOUR FANS UNIQUE?
It is always exciting for me to see both young people and Westerners attend my conferences and concerts. The Qin is actually experiencing a renaissance of sorts, as 20 and 30-somethings, you know, young professionals, take a new interest in studying Chinese traditional arts. Also, when I performed at Carnegie Hall last year with Wu Man, the Pipa virtuoso, there were many non-Chinese who really seemed to like our music. This gives me a LOT of hope for the future of traditional music.

WHAT IS THE WILDEST THING A FAN HAS EVER DONE FOR YOU?
Aiya! This is a little embarrassing! Most fans send the usual flowers, gifts or calligraphy and poetry. The Qin is a very refined and spiritual instrument – so fans tend to be well-behaved. Ha ha! I DID get some very passionate poems and letters after people heard my performance in John Woo’s “Red Cliff.” Ha… I was the hand-model… is that a real profession?!? Then I get some very excited letters.

“Red Cliff”

WHAT DO YOU COLLECT?
I am a traditional Chinese woman in most ways. I like pretty, delicate things… I collect calligraphy and of course, I spend a lot of time and money collecting ancient Qin manuscripts and artwork related to the instrument.

WHAT’S YOUR MOST MEMORABLE ACHIEVEMENT TO DATE?
I have been very lucky in my life. I have had many memorable meetings but most recently, on November 17 2009, when the U.S. President Barack Obama visited, I was asked to perform “Mountain and Flowing Water” at the Golden Hall in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People at the state banquet where President Hu Jintao welcomed President Obama.

NAME 3 INGREDIENTS FOR A GREAT SHOW.
First, you must be completely prepared musically, technically, emotionally and spiritually. Everything must proceed naturally, or at least look natural… even when you must perform something extremely difficult, make it look effortless.
Second, interact with your audience. Since I perform at many exhibitions and demonstrations, I have the opportunity to talk about the music I am performing. This is very important when you are presenting pieces that may not be familiar to your listeners. Most all traditional Chinese music is based on poetry or famous works of art – I like to explain this cultural connection to my audience.

Third, you need a great audience. There is a very famous old Chinese saying that goes -对牛弹琴 (duì niú tán qín) which means “Playing the Qin for a cow.”The co does not understand, so you waste your time and the cow gets annoyed! Ha ha! Even a great artist can have a bad night of performance, but a truly enthusiastic audience can inspire a musician to give their utmost. Especially for such concentrated and refined music as Chinese traditional music, you need to feel the spiritual connection with your listeners.

WHAT IS YOUR DREAM CONCERT TO SEE?
Of course I would love to see Deng Lijun (Teresa Teng). Her music was forbidden when I was a little girl but she was and still is the most influential voice in Chinese music. Even young rock bands just starting out in China learn her songs… STILL! Then I would like to travel back in time to attend one of the fabulous musical banquets of the Tang Dynasty – the Golden Age of Chinese civilization. It iis written that there were orchestras of hundreds of musicians, and singers and dancers and every manner of art was on display and performed. Finally, I am sorry I never had the opportunity to see Michael Jackson in concert. It may surprise some of your readers, by Michael Jackson was very well loved in China.

FINISH THIS SENTENCE: THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS… in the process of redefining itself as the marketplace changes through the introduction of new technologies. More music than at any other time in history is available to listeners; the question is now how to find your audience… and keep them!

HOW CAN FANS FOLLOW YOU?
When my son checks YouTube – it seems my fan follow me closer than I know! Ha ha! There are already many videos I never know I made! I have a blog but only in Chinese right now. I how to have a bilingual blog by the end of the year. I can announce my winning the IMA Award. Ha ha! My CD “Qin” is distributed in America by City Hall. It is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and many other classical and world music websites. My other recordings are also available on YesAsia.com. My American colleague tells me that this is a very reliable service, very trustworthy!

Zhao Jianzhen’s Blog:
http://zhaoguqin.blog.sohu.com/

If you are an artist submitting to The 10th IMA program and interested in being featured in an Artist Spotlight please contact [email protected]