Chinese Impressions
Theme and Variations for Erhu and Gu Zheng (2003)
by Ron Hannah

Duration: about 7 minutes

    Shortly after arriving in China in 2003 to teach English, I came into contact with local musicians and discovered that pentatonic music, despite being limited to 5 tones, can still be rich and varied. I also discovered that Chinese musicians are quite willing to step outside of the strict pentatonic scheme and introduce foreign

notes from time to time.

     For 2 1/2 years I resided in that country, revelling in its energy and contradictions as it struggles to achieve stability and to become modernized. I loved it. I loved the people, I loved the elegance of the Mandarin language, I even loved the frustrations and difficulties of living there. I met a Chinese musician upon whom (at his request) I bestowed the name 'Max'. He introduced me to others, among them
erhu players (a 2-stringed violin) and a guzheng mistress. I had long been impressed with the erhu's ability to mimic the human voice, and I was surprised at how versatile and expressive was the guzheng. A Canadian composer putting these two instruments together seemed like a natural extension of the contrasts and contradictions that had so intrigued me. Each variation has a title: "An Ancient Nation", "Arrival at Pudong" (Shanghai airport), "Exploring the Landscape", "The Energy of the People", "Blending of Cultures", "Many Smiles", "Prayer for the People", and "Optimism and Apprehension".

    I had already written a couple of melodies for the erhu (later expanded to five), and when I met that guzheng player and was given a demonstration, my imagination was fired. The result was this extended set of variations depicting my initial bewilderment with this busy place, and growing sense of the industry and ambition of the Chinese people. They are already through sheer numbers, a major force in the modern world, and if they ever get themselves organized and unified (a big if), they will be the next superpower indeed. I worry however that they are adopting some of the worst habits of the West, such as smoking and the acquisitive lifestyle with all its pressures, and my Variations are an attempt to express those hopes and fears.

     It was given its premiere performance by George Gao, erhu, and Calla Tan in early 2005 at the Royal Ontario Museum, in Toronto. It was part of a series called New Music in New Places, and the recording has a lot of background noise, but it is still a good performance.

     Chinese performers in China have looked at it and find it a little odd, I think, especially those who are very traditional. It is a blend of East and West, and I did not try to be a Chinese composer - I lack the background.

    You are welcome to download the opening 5 pages (of 15), and I will be happy to forward the full score if you send me a request (below). I do require, however, that you inform me of any performances so that I can keep this website up-to-date.