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Artist Profiles: Robert Zollitsch

Robert Zollitsch – Photo by Silvina Couste

Robert Zollitsch is a noted composer, producer, director, ethnomusicologist, and musical painter. His compositions weave a delicate balance of his influences, fusing together elements of dramatically different cultures into a style that is uniquely Robert Zollitsch.

Zollitsch was born in Munich in 1966. He chose the Bavarian zither (a 42 string instrument with a five octave range) as his instrument early in his childhood. His studies in music theory, both in Munich and Berlin, strengthened his abilities to create. He made a quick decision to abandon the traditional ways of playing his zither, deciding instead to develop a new style of performance on an instrument steeped in the tradition of his cultural heritage. Zollitsch has adapted this new style to a wide variety of music.

His compositions and improvisations have been performed on classical stages, as well as folk and world music festivals and jazz clubs. In 1993, after receiving a German Academic Exchange scholarship, Zollitsch began to focus on Asian music. He studied Guqin (Chinese zither) at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. From that time forth, he has continued to work on numerous projects with Asian artists. For example, in 1997, Zollitsch received a grant from the Berlin Senate to lay the foundation for the Eurasian Art Ensemble. He was bandleader for Mongolian songstress, Uma Chahar-Tugchi. His sophisticated compositions and arrangements for Uma’s charismatic voice are well known to international audiences.

Zollitsch’s experiments with vocals range from the Bavarian yodeling of his cultural heritage to the throat singing he has mastered following many trips through Mongolia and Tibet. In the summer of 1999, Robert was the recipient of the German Folk Forderpreis award for the best new Folk artist. The three pieces he contributed to the 1999 German ProFolk Forderpreis sampler CD showcase the diversity of influences that Robert infuses into his compositions.

Ever the ethnomusicologist, Zollitsch produced a landmark CD of Tibetan folk music field recordings in 1999. He continues to seek out new and innovative projects, and looks at each as an opportunity to expand on his own musical creativity as well.

Zollitsch’s first solo CD, Zwiefach (Oriente RIEN CD 31), is a musical tour of his influences and travels. The compositions paint a variety of moods, ranging from the melancholic instrumental works of Traurige Gschicht (Sad Story) to the wild, Jodler Nr. 7 (a musical collage of Bavarian yodeling, and Asian throat singing). Zollitsch has used his worldly experiences as paint, the zither and his voice as a palette, and each composition as a canvas, making Zwiefach a musical museum of his creativity.

Since 2003 Robert Zollitsch has lived in Beijing, China.

Partial Discography:

Zwiefach ‎(Oriente Musik, 2000)
Zanskar (Klangräume, 2002)
Jing Ye Si (2006)
Ye Xue (a.k.a. Night Snows, 2010)


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Masterful and Reverent Vietnamese Zither

Tri Nguyen – The Art of the Vietnamese Zither

Tri Nguyen – The Art of the Vietnamese Zither (ARC Music, 2019)

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You see the title The Art of the Vietnamese Zither and I can hear the huff of your sighs and feel you rolling your eyes from here. Perhaps you are imagining a rather spare, academic exploration of the zither and a dense intellectual tour through Vietnamese music with an impossible array of terms to learn and understand in order to grasp the Vietnamese zither. Well, nothing could possibly be further from the truth. Achingly elegant and intricately engaging, The Art of the Vietnamese Zither will have listeners perched on the edge of their seats, anticipating note after note capable of musically expressing a summer afternoon, the rainy season and a young man’s ride on a horse to seek his bride all by way of the Vietnamese zither.

Armed with a musical education that includes the Music Conservatory of Saigon and the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, as well as previous recording credits Beyond Borders and A Journey Between Worlds, Vietnamese composer, pianist and zither player Tri Nguyen has turned out a stunning recording with The Art of the Vietnamese Zither. There’s nothing spare or clinical about this music. It comes across as sweepingly cinematic and deeply personal to Mr. Nguyen whether it is a grand, bold piece like “Strategist Khong on the Fortress” or a delicately intimate song like “Autumn Moon Lullaby.”

Composing and arranging most of the tracks, Mr. Nguyen has gathered up a group of musicians to join his vision and own zither playing on the Art of the Vietnamese Zither like Buynta Goryaeva on violin, Iryna Topolnitska on violin, Carolin Berry on viola, Dima Tsypkin on cello, Son Mach on violin, Thanh Trung on guitar, Trung Tran on monocord, Nguyen Quyet on Vietnamese bamboo flute, Thien Lam on Vietnamese lute, Tran Hien on Vietnamese drums and for an unlikely addition on several tracks Qais Saadi on percussion and oud.

From the very opening track “Exchange of Love” through to the last note of closing track “Black Riding Horse,” The Art of the Vietnamese Zither is masterful in its balance. It’s easy to pick out the reverence to ancient musical traditions of Vietnam and where Mr. Nguyen marries that with Western traditions as on the elegant “Song of the Blackbird.”

The bright delicacy and careful bend of notes allow tracks like “Twilight Mist,” “Sadness of the South” and “Move on Water, Walk on Clouds” to simply flow like fluttering silk in the breeze. Stepping away from the delicate into the bold “Melancholy” and “Strategist Khong on the Fortress” prove that there’s plenty of drama in Vietnamese music. And, if that weren’t enough, Mr. Nguyen dazzles with a kind of hybrid track on “Child Where Are You?” with Mr. Saadi providing percussion and interestingly enough sinuous oud lines, and again on the track “Golden Skies.” Closing with the traditional Vietnamese folk song “Black Riding Horse,” Mr. Nguyen fleshes this track out with traditional Vietnamese bamboo flute, lute and drums to dazzle listeners with this wild musical ride on a black horse.

The Art of Vietnamese Zither is a gorgeously sumptuous listen and well worth the journey across southern Vietnam’s musical landscape.

Purchase The Art of the Vietnamese Zither

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