What Was Once Forbidden: Showcasing Music from China's 'Class of 1978'





"You see, for me the Cultural Revolution was not as bad as all that, actually," says composer Guo Wenjing, 53, with a slightly bemused look on his face. He draws pensively on his cigarette and explains: "Nobody in my family had any interest in music. My father and mother were peasants from the north. They had joined the Communist Party early on and became soldiers in the People's Liberation Army. They arrived in Sichuan with the army, and once demobilized and assigned to do 'communist work' in Chongqing, they became cadres at the local military hospital," he says, looking out of the window of the small downtown café where we are talking...

... "When the Cultural Revolution started, in 1966, and the Eight Revolutionary Operas [created by Jiang Qing, aka Madame Mao] became required propaganda work in every city and province, each local Cultural bureau had to look for children with a suitable class background to receive musical training to perform them. This is how music arrived at my doorstep. Everything else was banned, of course, but our teacher could only use what he knew to instruct us: which is how I first came to play Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven," he says, playing an imaginary violin in the air, waiving his cigarette up and down while doing so. "I loved it," he says, recalling that "it was the time of the great Sino-Soviet split, so Russian music was even more forbidden than the Western composers. On stage, we could only play revolutionary music. For study and rehearsals, however, we learned through the classical masters. We were children, and were quite fond of revolutionary music, actually! And if you consider that my siblings were at work in the fields and in the factory as I played, I had a pretty good time," he exclaims. Then he turns very serious, and shaking away his childhood recollections while chasing away his own cigarette smoke, he says: "Those were complicated years, but do not get me wrong. The Cultural Revolution was a tragedy. A disaster."

When that finally ended, in 1977, Mr. Guo saw an ad in the newspaper announcing the reopening of the Central Conservatory in Beijing after 10 years. He sat for the exam and was admitted along with what became known as the Class of 1978, the first group of Chinese composers to emerge from the ashes of the Cultural Revolution. The musical accomplishments of some notable members of that class—namely Mr. Guo, Chen Qigang, Chen Yi, Bright Sheng and Zhou Long—will be celebrated by New York's Carnegie Hall on Oct. 26 as part of its three-week "Ancient Paths, Modern Voices" festival showcasing music from China...



comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list