Suggested Listening: “Gada Meiren” by Xin Huguang

Some SUGGESTED LISTENING for the CLASSICAL MUSIC SKEPTIC for your weekend reading: Gada Meiren by Xin Huguang, a powerful symphonic poem performed below by the Central Philharmonic Society of China, Han Zhongjie conducting.

About the Composer:

Xin Huguang (1933-2011) was a genius composer and bold pioneer.  Gada Meiren, which she wrote as her final graduation piece at Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music, has been widely hailed by Western critics as one of the greatest symphonic works to come out of China — but at its premiere, few in the audience believed it could have been written by a twenty-three-year-old woman.  While at the Central Conservatory, Xin was introduced to two great loves: Mongolian folk music, and the saxophonist who would become her husband.  In the 1960s, China’s oppressive Communist government implemented the Cultural Revolution, a tumultuous decade of ideological purging.  To escape, Xin and her husband moved to Mongolia, where she taught and composed for nearly three decades, raising three sons (including a famous Chinese film composer) and encountering the folk traditions she had learned about during her studies.  In 1982, however, she moved back to Beijing, where she continued working as a composer and pedagogue until her death just four years ago.

About the Piece:

Composed in 1956, Gada Meiren recounts the story of the eponymous Mongolian folk hero, leader of an uprising against the unjust takeover of southeastern Mongolian grasslands by Chinese settlers.  An ethnic Mongol, Gada Meiren (1892-1931) was forced to flee his ancestral land at the age of ten, when it was sold to Chinese colonists without permission of the regional Mongol prince.  As colonization continued, ethnic Mongols were forced out of their native grasslands and left without livelihood as Chinese settlers took over the cultivation of Mongolian farmland.  With his people in poverty, Gada Meiren — at this point, a young regional military officer — spearheaded a series of diplomatic campaigns to cease further colonization.  When these campaigns proved futile, resulting in his 1929 imprisonment, he tried a different tactic: violent rebellion.  Beginning with a ragtag militia 200 strong, he led attacks on land surveyors and organized the burning of land sale contracts, ultimately attracting an army of 1,000 fed-up, displaced Mongols.  From his humble beginnings to his downfall at the hands of the Chinese army, the life of Gada Meiren is captured in a 2002 film — incidentally, scored by Xin Huguang’s son San Bao — which you can watch in its entirety here.  The vibe of the film is very John Wayne, cowboys-versus-Indians, but with the lens reversed in support of the underdog.  It’s no wonder, then, that Xin’s music — punctuated by the Mongolian folk melodies she had studied — is so cinematic in scope, a veritably narrative piece of music — there’s a reason it’s called a symphonic “poem” — with the same pacing and excitement of an epic hero’s tale.

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