Red Chamber is a Chinese music supergroup based in Vancouver (Canada). The ensemble includes four renowned instrumentalists, Mei Han (zheng), Guilian Liu (pipa), Zhimin Yu (ruan), and Geling Jiang (sanxian).
On the album Regrass, the group performs stringband music wizardry exclusively on plucked instruments. The repertoire on the Redgrass CD includes Imperial Court classics of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) as well as contemporary compositions that include bluegrass, eastern European horo, jazz and other genres.
Although Mei Han moved to the Nashville (Tennessee) area in the United States, the group is still active.
Mia Hsieh was born in a port city in Taiwan and now lives in Taipei city. She has been working in the art field and community development for many years. Her movement training includes modern dance, Tai Chi and Indian dance. She has also studied vocal training in traditional Nan-Kwan singing and contemporary vocal performance with Meredith Monk and Lynn Book in New York City, as part of her time there on a Fulbright scholarship.
Mia has developed her own performance style that she calls “singing body” physical theater. She has performed with renowned Taiwanese and international artists in dance, theater, music, visual art and film. She leads several different types of workshops rerlated to creativity and healing through movement and voice.
She is the lead vocalist for Taiwanese world music band A Moving Sound.
Mei Han is a zheng virtuoso. Presenting music deeply rooted in over two thousand years of Chinese culture, Han is transforming the zheng into a powerful tool for the contemporary international concert stage. She is a consummate performer, appeared with leading artists around the world in a multitude of musical genres from symphonic, chamber and New Music to traditional and World music, or from Creative Improvisation to electronic.
Han studied with China’s top zheng masters Zhang Yan and Gao Zicheng, and performed as a featured soloist for over ten years with the prestigious Beijing Zhan You Ensemble, the premiere ensemble of its type in China. Han went on to become a rare blend of performer and scholar with two Master’s degrees in ethnomusicology, from the Musical Researchb Institute of the Chinese Arts Academy in Beijing (1995), considered internationally the most prestigious institute for Chinese music studies, and from the University of British Columbia (2000).
Han wrote the zheng entry for the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the premiere music reference book, and has published articles in numerous music journals in both English and Chinese. Han is the director of the Chinese Music Ensemble at the University of British Columbia, founded the Chinese Ensemble at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and has lectured on Chinese music in many universities and music institutes around the world.
A dynamic performer and innovator, Han has been exploring new directions for solo zheng and unique combinations of zheng with other instruments in a contemporary experimental aesthetic. Works written for, and premiered by, Han include the world’s first work for zheng and harpsichord by Janet Danielson performed at the Open Ears Festival 2005; the first work for zheng and string quartet by John Oliver, premiered at the Vancouver Chamber Music Festival 2004 with the Borealis String Quartet; and the first original zheng concerto by Dr. John Sharpley, performed with the China Philharmonic Orchestra in Beijing, 2003.
A commanding virtuoso, Han regularly performs challenging new works by contemporary international composers including compositions by Minoru Miki, Yuji Takahashi, and Barry Truax amongst others.
Han’s career spans Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and North America. Her performance highlights include the Kennedy Centre and the Smithsonian Institutions (with Orchid Ensemble). Together with Raine-Reusch, they toured to prestigious venues in Australia (WOMAD), China, Czech Republic, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore (WOMAD), and South Africa.
As an accomplished improviser, Han has performed at major international jazz and experimental music festivals, including the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Atlantic Jazz Festival, International Festival de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville and the Vancouver New Music Festival.
Han’s first solo CD, Outside the Wall of traditional and contemporary works, received critical acclaim, with airplay on CBC (Canada), BBC (Great Britain), and ABC (Australia). Her collaboration with composer and multi-instrumentalist Randy Raine-Reusch on Distant Wind for zheng duet, and Road to Kashgar with the Orchid Ensemble were nominated for Juno Awards (Best Global).
Han recorded Ume with piano luminary Paul Plimley, creating a rich and original musical language in contemporary jazz aesthetic.
Mei Han was one of the members of Vancouver-based Chinagrass ensemble Red Chamber.
In 2016, Mei Han moved to Tennessee (USA) to direct the Center for Chinese Music and Culture at Middle Tennessee State University.
Dipping into the wonderful world of Chinese music, ARC Music is set to release Classical & Contemporary Chinese Music by the esteemed zheng player Mei Han and all women musical group Red Chamber on September 30th. Appearing on the Za Discs label, Ms. Han has recordings such as Ume (2006), Distant Wind (2005) with Randy Raine-Reusch, Outside the Wall (2005) with the Borealis String Quartet and the 2014 offering Gathering with Red Chamber. Red Chamber also has the 2008 recording Redgrass, also on the Za Discs, for listeners to explore.
With the combined musical prowess of Ms. Han and Red Chamber’s Guilian Liu, Geling Jiang and Zhimin Yu, one might suspect that this “plucked string” ensemble is simply a traditional Chinese musical group, but that would be far from the width and breadth of the musical aspirations of these musicians.
Masters of the zheng or long zither, the pipa or teardrop lute, the saxion or fretless longneck lute, the zhongruan or moon lute and the daruan or bass moon lute, Ms. Han and Red Chamber’s members delve into just about every kind of music from the music of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to jazz to varied folk traditions from around the world and even slipping into the plucked goodness of Bluegrass.
Pairing elegance and pure passion, Classical & Contemporary Chinese Music opens with the jaunty “Dao Chuilian,” giving a listen into a 20th century Guangdong province, before diving headfirst into the quick work of composer Moshe Denburg’s “Dark Red Ruby” with its dashes of a klezmer and Balkan style by way of the liuqin or small teardrop lute and zheng by Ms. Han, pipa by Liu, zhongruan by Ms. Jiang and daruan by Ms. Yu.
“Xi’an Medley” is a lovely track comprised of a collection of tunes with names like “Melody of Plum Blossom” and “Moth to Flame.”
“Nokoto,” a tribute to Japanese koto master Tadao Sawai, is elegantly lush with the addition of Randy Raine-Reusch on zheng and Laurence Mollerup on acoustic bass.
Classical & Contemporary Chinese Music reveals more treats with the addition of “Girl Picking Flowers,” a composition by Red Chamber’s Ms. Yu, the Chaozhou styled track “Pink Lotus in Many Modes” and the riotously delightful Bulgarian folk dance “Gakino Horo.”
“Peng Baban” is a delicious traditional styled track from Shandong province. Other delights include the raucous folk tune “Sunny Spring and White Snow, “Datun Jelut,” a folk tune from the Kenyah and Kayan peoples of northern Borneo and the spunky “Dance of the Yao People,” a celebration of the Yao people of southwestern China.
Despite its rather prosaic title, Classical & Contemporary Chinese Music is a globe-trotting delight. Ms. Han and Red Chamber’s Ms. Liu, Ms. Jiang and Ms. Yu are truly impressive in their musical prowess as they are in the musical reach and well worth a listen.
Wu Man is an internationally renowned pipa (Chinese lute) virtuoso. Born in Hangzhou (China), Wu Man studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing where she became the first recipient of a master’s degree in pipa. She currently lives in Boston (United States of America) where she was chosen as a Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study at Harvard University.
Wu Man was selected by Yo-Yo Ma as the winner of the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize in music and communication. She is also the first artist from China to have performed at the White House with Yo-Yo Ma with whom she now performs as part of the Silk Road Ensemble. Wu Man has collaborated with distinguished musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma, David Zinman, Yuri Bashmet, and Cho-liang Lin.
In the orchestral world she has performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, and many others. Her touring has taken her to the major music halls of the world including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.
San Chuan (“Three Rivers”) is a trio of three young and energetic women, Wang Yao, Sang Ka and Liu Yu, who play the Chinese zither called zheng. Founded in autumn 2008 and based in the Chinese capital Beijing, the trio is presenting captivating compositions of contemporary Chinese music.
The three musicians, Xia Jing, Wen Ting and Sang Ka are all trained on the zheng since their early childhood. The ensemble performed at World Music Expo WOMEX 2009 in Copenhagen and Europalia-China in Brussels (the biggest Chinese arts festival ever held outside of China).
The zheng, a Chinese zither with 21 strings, is one of the most popular instruments in China. Its tuning is essentially pentatonic. Bending notes by pressing the open end of strings is one of the main sound features of this great instrument. The rather unusual combination of three zheng shows a stunning result, as they unfold an exceptional, almost orchestral soundscape.
Hanggai, composed of young musicians from Beijing and the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, is at the forefront of a modern Mongolian folk revival in the heart of Beijing. The musicians are pioneers of “Chinagrass” – contemporary Chinese folk music (often performed by or influenced by Chinese minorities) that reclaims roots music from the grasslands.
Mixing khoomei (throat singing – a fascinating vocal technique in which a single musician produces two notes simultaneously), morin khuur (horsehair fiddle) and tobshuur (2-stringed lute) with rock instruments, the group draws on a repertoire that all but disappeared during China’s recent turbulent past.
Hanggai’s performances of traditional songs from the grasslands are attracting an ever-increasing following in China. The group’s leader, Ilchi, fronted a punk rock band until he experienced a conversion after hearing traditional overtone singing. He traveled to his father’s homeland of Inner Mongolia and started to learn the technique – rediscovering the music and repertoire of songs that had faded but not disappeared. There he met Hugejiltu and Bagen, both music students, who joined the group.
Hugejiltu plays lead fiddle and Bagen sings deep bass using a overtone singing technique whereby he produces a note one octave below the note he is singing.
Many of their songs are adaptations of traditional songs from the grasslands, sung in Mongolian; many use khoomei, a throat-singing technique that has been handed down over hundreds of years.
At the core of the music are two traditional instruments – the morin khuur (horsehair fiddle) and the tobshuur (strummed 2-stringed lute). Some of Hanggai’s arrangements sound traditional and others are more complex.
One of their songs, Five Heroes (which tells of vigilantes stealing from the rich and giving to the poor), includes jangly electric guitar, conjuring up cowboy movies and creating a connection between East and West. Another song, Lullaby (Borulai), is a stunning mix of vocal harmonies, providing a familiar feel of a gentle lullaby with a strong atmosphere of the grasslands.
The group takes its name from an ancient Mongolian word that describes an idealized grassland landscape of mountains, trees, rivers and blue skies. Its CD, Introducing Hanggai, is on the World Music Network label.
Hanggai has performed throughout Europe and the United States.
Guilian Liu was born in Shanghai and is one of the world’s premiere pipa (lute) masters. Liu graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing and was the first prize-winner of the Chinese National Instrumental Music Competition in 1989.
She has won first prizes in competitions held across China. She used to be the Principal of the plucked instruments section of the Chinese Orchestra of the Central Conservatory of Music, Director of the Shanghai Pipa Society, and a member of the Chinese Musicians’ Association and Chinese National Orchestral Society.
As a Canadian citizen, Guilian Liu is now the art director of the “Pearl Music Studio”. Her students have won prizes in different competitions in the Greater Vancouver area.
Liu has performed in Europe, Asia and North America. Her superb expressiveness and impeccable techniques were praised by renowned conductors Herbert von Karajan and Seiji Ozawa. She was featured performing in the Oscar winning documentary From Mao to Mozart – Isaac Stern in China (1979).
Guilian Liu is one of the members of Vancouver-based ensemble Red Chamber.
Gong Linna was born 1975 in Guiyang, Guizhou province (located in the Southwest of China). She first appeared on stage at the age of five. Since her early childhood she knew that she wanted to become a professional singer.
At 16 she began her studies at the Chinese Conservatory of Music where she held her first and highly acclaimed concert as soloist in 1999. Since that she has been a soloist with the Zhongyang Minzu Yuetuan, China’s most renowned traditional music orchestra. In addition to many other awards, she won the Chinese National Singing Competition in 2000 as best female singer, including the Special Audience Award, gaining the audience votes of over a million Chinese television viewers.
In 2001 Linna’s first solo-album “Kongque fei lai” was published, presenting recordings from the previous 5 years. One year later she met composer and producer Lao Luo, who had already established himself as one of the masterminds of New Chinese Art Music, and collaborating with him she started a new artistic life.
Experiments with world music fusion and avant-garde music as well as ethnomusicological field work marked the next years. In 2003 Linna contributed to the album of Wu Xing, published on CRC. On this album Linna gave her debut as songwriter with beautiful lyrics.
Her next album “Zou Shengming de Lu”, published 2005 by KUKU-Music, finally set a landmark in Chinese Art Music. Since 2006 Gong Linna is performing with a chamber music ensemble formed by some of China’s best instrumentalists and has been performing on many international festivals and prestigious concert halls.
Besides her work on new creations with her unique mix of traditional singing techniques and modern sounds, Gong Linna devoted lot of her time to do research on Chinese classical music and folk songs.
Linna managed to convince not only scholars but also people from diverse regions she was singing folk songs from. Her album “Zou Xikou” (in Europe published as “Chinese Folk Songs”) is a milestone and has sustainable influenced the Chinese singing (-teaching) scene. Following this her project with performance and recordings of qin-songs formed the next shock-wave in the Chinese art-music and singing scene.
Still and quite in contrast to her impact on Chinese culture Gong Linna continues to be a “secret star”. The Chinese music scene does not give her much chances for performance, as ambitious art-music does yet hardly have a stage in China.
One of Gong Linna’s projects is the recording of art-songs written by Song dynasty poet-composer Jiang Kui and by 20th century composer Luo Zhongrong.
Kongque fei lai (2001)
Wu Xing (2003)
Zou Shengming de Lu (Walking the path of life) (Kuku Music kuku-51, 2005)
Jing Ye Si (Kuku Music kuku-61, 2006) Zou Xikou – Chinese Folk Songs (ARC Music EUCD 2129, 2008)
Geling Jiang is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, who started her professional training at age of 10. After graduated from Wu Han musical Conservatory, she became a member of the Chime Bell Ensemble of Hubei province for 20 years, with which she recorded numerous radio broadcasts, TV programs, and films; and performed tours to the United States, Japan and Singapore. Trained initially as a sanxian (three-string fretless lute) player, she also regularly plays the zheng, pipa and ruan.
Geling Jiang has performed with various Chinese music ensembles in the Vancouver area, including Red Chamber, the Inter-Cultural Orchestra and Orchid Ensemble.