choose this instead of a better-known instrument? ‘I thought about using a Chinese instrument in Garden of the Sage because I came to China before and did a musical piece with the erhu, but I had no idea about the guqin back then. So one day I was talking to a friend in town and he emphasized that the guqin, in fact, is a very important Chinese instrument in the nation’s music repertoire. It has a long history and is an instrument of literary poets. I love its sound and the expression it brings. I think it’s a very special instrument for a composer.’ Musically ‘The programme was chosen by the great master of guqin Chen Leiji,’ says Pecou. ‘I wanted musical pieces which in a way could fit into Maurice Ravel’s Jeux d’eau (The Water Games) because water is so important in a garden. I didn’t want all Western music – it’s very interesting to hear more Chinese instruments as well. Chen picked the other pieces, as he can make other arrangements for the songs. We had all sorts of fun doing it.’ Thierry Pecou holds Master Chen in high regard. ‘I met him in Beijing once; he showed me the instrument and talked to me about it. Ever since that time, I’ve wanted to collaborate with him.’
The Music of Flowers Thierry Pecou’s Garden of the Sage is particularly apt for Le French May
Garden of the Sage – it sounds like an idyllic spot of timeless mystery that transcends the dualities of our everyday existence. And in a way that is what Thierry Pecou’s experiment is, for the musical production he brings to Le French May 2010 is a meeting of cultures that hopefully has a transcending, if not transcendental, effect. Pecou is a contemporary composer from France whose second love after music is travel and collecting all the influences that the world’s great variety of cultures can gift to him. He talks to bc about his music, its influences and what is special about Garden of the Sage. On the inspiration for his work, Pecou talks of sound – ‘piano, electronic instruments and guqin’ – the meeting of West and East (especially ancient Chinese culture) and two French authors. One is a French philosopher studying Chinese culture in France and the other Francois Cheng. ‘I was very much inspired by Francois Cheng: It’s very interesting to have a Chinese person completely write in French about the meaning of Chinese culture,’ says Pecou. Francois Cheng is a French academician born in 1929 in China. He took up French citizenship in 1973 and, in 2002, was the first and so far only Asian member elected into the Academie Française. On arrival in France, Cheng knew nothing about the French language, but after taking up both that and the culture, he mastered the arts of French history and nuance. He remains a powerful influence in France due to his expertise in poetry, and the works on Chinese culture and novels he has written over the years.
Pecou’s own composition for the show has been slow in taking birth. ‘I wrote a short version 4-5 years ago. It’s a piece about China and its cultural relationship with Europe. I wanted the music to be accompanied by movement on stage, but live performances didn’t satisfy me so much. So in the midst of creating something longer and more detailed, I realized I needed a visual element. Then I thought, why not work with a visual artist? When I met Li Jing Fei, she had many interesting ideas about creating images and contemporary designs. I know she has done work similar to my music in a way – not copying, but reinterpreting the culture in a modern way. We put the video and the music together and they match very well, I hope. Trained as a classical pianist, Thierry Pecou has written many compositions over the course of his career, including commissions for some of the biggest names in the business, such as the Kronos Quartet and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He also has specific takes on music from different cultures. ‘I am very interested in working with cultures other than my own. I travel quite a lot, and from different countries I am inspired by what I hear and the people I meet. All of these introduce elements into my music. In a way this project in China is working to the same principle,’ Pecou says, admitting Chinese music is not easy to master. ‘Chinese music is different from Western music, to learn it you have to relearn everything from the ground up. It is necessary for you to change your understanding of how you know music. It is a very different approach that reflects the philosophy of Taoism and everything that is so different from Western culture. It’s really exciting but, at the same time, very intimidating for me as well.’ Although he is classically trained, Pecou also uses electronic music in Garden of the Sage. He strategically places microphones to record the sounds of the instruments, not just to amplify the sound but to transform it in a computer. He uses a piano because its welcoming sound doesn’t fit too easily with the guqin but then he adds strings in the electronic transformation. So listeners will hear the original and transformed sounds, the recorded sequences evoking, he hopes, the feeling of Chinese paintings with mist, clouds and mystery.
‘The journey into Garden of the Sage is also inspired by a stroll into a Chinese garden, where every step along the way you will perceive something different as the scenery changes around you. It is a long meditation,’ says Pecou.
Thierry Pecou has high hopes for the effects of The Garden of the Sage on foreign audiences. ‘I’m very curious about the reactions from Chinese and Hong Kong people – I think it’s very important they don’t expect anything and just go into this special universe, probably so unexpected that they can’t imagine what it’ll be like. It’s just everything you know from Chinese music and classical music, but try to think of it as fresh and try to just to go into the music. It’s not a difficult type of music to understand, and can give much pleasure to an audience.’
The fusion of Eastern and Western influences has long since stopped being novel, yet the adoption of the guqin might still be. Why did he
Garden of the Sage: 8pm, 11 May HK City Hall Concert Hall. Tickets are $380, $260, $180 and $120, from Urbtix: 2734 9009.
Garden of the Sage: 8pm, 11 May HK City Hall Concert Hall. Tickets are $380, $260, $180 and $120, from Urbtix: 2734 9009. The fusion of East...