TO make their upcoming concert truly authentic, The HIP Company is playing music transcribed by Jesuit missionaries who lived in Beijing during the 18th century.
The ensemble specialise in Baroque music, using traditional instruments and scores to make their performance super faithful to the original, with the odd contemporary twist.
Their latest project Chinoiserie fouses on the curious relationship between baroque European musicians and China in the 1700s.
“A large part of the programme is traditional Chinese music that’s either been suggested by our guest artists or was transcribed by 18th century missionaries at the Beijing imperial court,” says HIP Company cellist Krista Low.
“Most people in Australia would be unaware that Western European Jesuit missionaries lived in Beijing for over 200 years and that during the Qing Dynasty, the Emperor Kangxi was a big fan of the harpsichord and had one in every room.
“This led to a lot of literature by missionaries about Chinese music, and even a treatise about Western music written entirely in Chinese. The Chinese melodies that were transcribed by these missionaries have been arranged for our ensemble by our very own Bonnie de la Hunty.”
During this period, European composers jumped on the ‘Chinoiserie’ bandwagon – a popular type of interior design that featured western interpretations of Chinese styles, often using fantastical birds and beasts.
Low says this western “exoticising” didn’t reflect China’s true culture and is out-dated, so they’ve brought in Teresa Tan from the Chung Wah Association orchestra and musician Stella Huang to adapt the score and make it more representative of the real China.
“A lot of the time, China and Japan were conflated with each other and there was no genuine interest in engaging with the cultures that were being approximated and appropriated,” Low says.
“In music, this manifested in composers writing operas set in Eastern locations and the characters often had magic powers or suspicious, mystical customs that enhanced their foreignness and the drama of the narrative.
“However rather than ‘cancelling’ them, we want to acknowledge their historical context and perform them in a way that is inclusive.
“Today, we don’t have to ‘imagine’ Chinese music because of the generosity of people like Teresa and Stella who are so willing to share their culture with us.”
At the concert Tan will play the guzheng (a Chinese-plucked zither with up to 26 strings) and Huang will be on the yangqin (a Chinese hammered dulcimer).
“The two traditional instruments, guzheng and yangqin, have a gorgeous, delicate quality to them, but they are also very resonant and have a fairly large pitch and dynamic range,” Low says.
“One of the pieces that Teresa and Stella will be playing as a duet really showcases these instruments and their ability to play music that is at times slow and atmospheric, but also quite rhythmic, driving and exciting.
“The pentatonic scale is definitely a feature of the Chinese music that we’re performing, however we were surprised to learn that both instruments are capable of Western chromatic scales.
“The combination of Chinese traditional instruments and Western Baroque instruments is pretty unique and it’s been wonderful to explore this sound world together.”
The concert will also include an Italian violin sonata written by Teodorico Pedrini, which Low says might be the only western Baroque music written in Beijing, and was probably a pedagogical work for the Emperor’s sons.
The hour-long Chinoiserie concert is at the Perth Town Hall next Saturday (May 28) 7pm and includes a reception with food from Dragon Palace Chinese Restaurant and Howard Park Wines. Tix at trybooking.com/bxzwm
by STEPHEN POLLOCK