Shanghai Chinese Orchestra (SHCO). Inspired by the interaction and mergence of the Chinese and Western cultures in Shanghai as well as the history of the city, Christian Jost intends to present the inclusive atmosphere and cultural diversity of the city from a foreigner’s perspective by this harmonic mixing orchestral work. Shanghai Odyssey expresses two scenes of the city in the mind of the composer: while the giant highrises and endless bustling streets
contrast with the nearby tranquil roads lined with rows of London plane trees in the former French Concession, the city is also constantly switching between bustle and peace as well as between new development and memories in the past.
The five movements of the work are also constructed under such symmetric structure, and the harmonic mixing with strong tempo manifests the juxtaposition between external power and internal change which contains a driving force within that makes this music work a city’s journey of seeking for harmony through reincarnation.
“Shanghai Odyssey – The Bund,” a fresh take on traditional Chinese music composed by German composer Christian Jost, is such a new approach that it’s being labelled by some as “a worthwhile experiment.”
The piece — which will be staged at Shanghai Grand Theater on November 8 — aims to explore places in Shanghai where the old co-exists with the new and the East meets the West.
Commissioned by Shanghai Chinese Orchestra and Shanghai International Arts Festival, “Shanghai Odyssey – The Bund” is said to be the first traditional Chinese work of such a scale to be composed by a Westerner.
It aims to explore new and fresh possibilities for traditional Chinese orchestra.
“With the help of Jost, we hope that we may find one more angle to look at traditional Chinese music from,” Luo Xiaoci, president of Shanghai Chinese Orchestra said. “It is a difficult task, but it is also a worthwhile experiment.”
Jost, although a German native, is quite a fan of Chinese culture and joked that he might have been Chinese in a previous life.
Before he commissioned for “Shanghai Odyssey – The Bund,” Jost has created works related to Chinese culture like “Heart Sutra,” based on Chinese writer Eileen Chang’s work, and “Great Lantern,” related to Su Tong’s novel and Zhang Yimou’s movie.
But “Shanghai Odyssey – The Bund,” with no basis in literature, is more about Jost’s own feelings about Shanghai.
“What is really special about Shanghai is that it is the only city in China with a strong connection to the world, to the future and to history,” he said.
It is his first-ever work in traditional Chinese orchestra.
Jost had his first experience of traditional Chinese music about 20 years ago in Beijing. Encountering musicians from Shanghai Chinese Orchestra last year granted him the opportunity to get close to traditional music and instruments.
The way that musicians of traditional Chinese orchestras play together is very different from those of a Western classic orchestra, according to Jost’s observation.
“For orchestras playing classical music, the biggest goal is that everybody needs to work tightly with each other and listen carefully. The perfect pitch is very important. Chinese traditional orchestra, however, is different,” he said.
With that in mind and bringing his experience with classical music to the fore, Jost made some changes to individual instrument players and the orchestra as a whole in an attempt to make the music more elegant and beautiful.
“I try to make the music colorful and round. For example, I want to make the sound of suona (double-reeded horn) more beautiful and soft and let gaohu, erhu and zhonghu (all in the huqin or bowed string instruments family) play as one thing,” he explained, talking about traditional Chinese musical instruments. “This is a fantastic challenge.”
He also changed the orchestra’s layout, such as putting double basses beside gaohu and erhu, thus allowing the instruments to“shine.”
“Shanghai Odyssey – The Bund,” to be presented by the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra, is composed of five movements, namely “Oriental Urban Perfume,” “Pearls Reflecting Towers,” “The Garden Bridge,” “East Nanjing Road” and “The Bund.”
Innovative paintings of Shanghai scenery, created by local artist Mao Donghua, will support the music.