Monday, November 26, 2007

Even for a serious fan of world music like myself, Chinese music is a tough nut to crack. Pentatonic scales and vocals in tonal languages are simply not a winning combination for western ears. Farewell My Concubine is one of my favourite movies, but that's not due to it's scenes of Peking opera. As has been remarked, "When it comes to Chinese composers, I prefer Puccini."

So I was all the more delighted this evening to hear a wonderful NPR interview with Ma XiaoHui, an erhu virtuoso. You really owe it to yourself to listen to the story and appreciate this woman's music. It sounds like a cross between Yo-Yo Ma and Tuvan or Kazakh tunes. They open with Ms. Ma playing Elegy, a "concerto for erhu and orchestra," though they do not trouble to specify the composer, nor if and where a recording can be obtained. I'd get it in a second. She also adapts western violin classics to her instrument, with fine effect. And her Horse piece which closes the interview is not to be missed: sounds like H.I. Biber and his Sonata Representativa (samples) reincarnated in northeast Asia!

Also in the realm of Asian music, I just ran across Smithsonian Folkways' new six-disc collection Music of Central Asia (lots of samples via link). I am now hoping that Christmas morning in the Peculiar household will exalt to Kirghiz and Tajik strains.