New Music for the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet

Minneapolis Guitar Quartet and Gao Hong, pipa
Gao Hong
Gao Hong has played the pipa since she was 12. Notice the beautiful carved peony at the end of its neck. The peony is symbol of her hometown, Louyang, China.
Photo courtesy the artist

In speaking with Gao Hong after our Maud Moon Weyerhaeuser studio session, I realized I had actually visited her hometown, Louyang, years ago. They hold a peony festival each year and I was overwhelmed with the size, shape and colors of these beautiful floral symbols of China. So special are these flowers, that Gao even has a carved peony gracing the neck of her pipa.

Gao Hong is a pipa virtuoso. The instrument is often called a Chinese lute and has been played for 2,000 years. The instrument is held on the knee with the neck pointed up and the fingers pull in also in an upwards motion. To make the sound louder, modern pipas use metal strings as opposed to silk and so Gao has to use fake finger nails to withstand the stress.

Her playing is soulful, electric and earthily Eastern. Add that to the sound of four guitars and you have a whole new sonic world.

Minneapolis Guitar Quartet with Pipa-ist Gao Hong
Alison Young has a laugh with the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet (Steve Newbrough, Wade Oden, Ben Gateno and Joe Hagedorn) and Pipa-ist Gao Hong in the Maud Moon Weyerhaeuser studio at MPR.
MPR photo/Mike Pengra

The Minneapolis Guitar Quartet commissioned Gao Hong to write a work for them with her playing the pipa. Called "Gaungxi Impression," the piece takes its inspiration from one of the most beautiful regions of Southern China with heavenly mountains, colorful fields, a rich coastline and peopled by an ethnic population wearing traditional colorful ethnic costumes.

The members of the MGQ and Gao came to Classical MPR to play "Impressions" and share some of the unusual sonic techniques they elicit from their instruments that sound percussive and a bit like the clanginess of Peking Opera.

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