By: Mar. 06, 2016
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Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 5th March 2016

Presented by The School of Chinese Music and Art, and The Garage International, Zhao Liang, the principal of the school, has put together a fascinating evening of traditional Chinese music and contemporary music, combining three guzhengs and a string quartet in An Oriental Flair - Eastern Harps Meet Western Strings. Adelaide's OzAsia Festival has seen some inspired collaborations between artists from various cultural backgrounds, and this group have embodied that concept superbly in this concert.

The guzheng has a long history, over 2,500 years, and similar instruments are found in other Asian countries, such as the Japanese Koto, the Korean gayageum, and the Vietnamese ?àn tranh. Not surprisingly, there is a vast repertoire of music for the instrument that has written over that time, the natural world being the inspiration for so many of the most famous melodies.

Zhao Liang, Joel Ang, and Lan Lieu are the three guzheng players, with Lan Lieu also playing the zhongruan (tenor ruan), also known as the moon guitar because of its large round body, although it only has four strings. It was a real pleasure to hear this instrument being played, as it is rarely seen in Adelaide. The string quartet featured Lynda Lalu, first violin, Daisy Elliott, second violin, Jenny Hu, viola, and Jack Overall, cello. Mark Taylor was the cheery and enthusiastic compère for the performance.

One of the most famous pieces for guzheng, originally composed for the guqin, an even older instrument, Plum-blossom in Three Movements (Mei Hua San Nong), was included in this concert, along with one of the more recently composed pieces (since the 1950s) that has become an important piece, Fighting the Typhoon (Zhan Tai Feng), Wang Changyuan, 1965.

Two fascinating inclusions were Giachino Rossini's William Tell Overture, and Somewhere, Over the Rainbow, both arranged for the full group. Because the guzheng is a pentatonic instrument (like playing only the black notes on a piano), the missing notes needed to play a western diatonic scale and all of the accidentals are made by pressing the strings on the far side of the bridge to raise the notes. Joel Ang wrote the arrangements for the guzheng in these works. There was even the theme tune from a Chinese television series, Shanghai Beach.

I have a personal interest in Chinese music, having chosen to study it as an elective subject many years ago whilst studying towards a degree in music. My guest had no idea what to expect. At the end of the concert, we were equally thrilled by the marvellous performances and the rich diversity of music that the ensemble had embraced.

Zhao Liang is an exceptionally talented performer, with a remarkably perceptive approach to the wonderfully evocative traditional pieces, and great skill in crossing the divide to excel in playing western music. Her students, too, display a sound level of these qualities, demonstrating that she is ensuring that the future of both traditional Chinese and fusion music inAdelaide is assured. Watch for future performances by Zhao Liang, alone, with her trio, or with larger ensembles.

Enjoy a few moments of the her guzheng trio below. Zhao Liang is on the right, in red.


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