Valletta Baroque Festival 2024
Wu Wei, sheng
Emma van Schoonhoven
Organ and harpsichord
Chaos for Wu Wei
Rigaudon for Wu Wei
J. Steenbrink Silk Rondeau
Impro Wu Wei
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Traditional/J. Steenbrink Silk Song
Dancing song of the Yao Tribe
Henry Purcell (1659-1695) / Georg Philipp Telemann
What about some bells
Gavotte en rondeau
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Concerto in C major, BWV 595
(based on the 1st movement of a Concerto in C major by
Prince Johann Ernst von Sachsen-Weimar)
Johann Sebastian Bach
Andante in A minor BWV 1003
Johann Sebastian Bach
Gigue in G BWV 577
J Steenbrink Dragon Dance
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) /Johann Sebastian Bach
Good things stay, New things come
By Judith and Tineke Steenbrink, the artistic team of Holland Baroque
The sheng, a magical miracle of harmony
Silk Baroque is a musical encounter between Wu Wei and Holland Baroque, playing a programme influenced by both Eastern and Western music. Wu Wei has brought his sheng, an extraordinary ancient Chinese mouth organ. It looks like a bundle of bamboo reeds, cased in a metal bowl. The sheng is a miracle of harmony, melody and rhythmic possibilities. However, it was not Wu Wei’s instrument that inspired us to create this album, it was Wu Wei himself. Like a siren, his magical playing enchants audience and musician alike. Wu Wei’s abilities bring out the sheng’s beauty: whispering, charming, and compelling. Get ready to be enthralled.
How it all started, the first encounter
We met Wu Wei for the first time at Amsterdam Central Station. Timidly, we drank a cup of green tea and talked a little. We were too shy to get the conversation started, but then Wu Wei said, “Come, I will play you something.” With his eyes closed he played like an angel, sometimes silky soft and sometimes mind-blowingly energetic. We were moved and overwhelmed at the same time, this moment of sheer joy stunned us. Wu Wei played so fluently and powerfully that his sound seemed to arise directly from the baroque and at the same time he improvised in an inimitable way. It was abundantly clear that he is a great musician. Effortlessly, he navigated between centuries and continents. One year later, we met in Potsdam. At the invitation of a luthier friend, we played together in a summer house by a lake for two days. Once in a while, the luthier would walk in to listen. We tried out some compositions, explored each other’s ideas, and had a wonderful time. It was an idyllic meeting in which the music dispelled the shyness between us. It got easier to talk; a little bit of English, a little bit of German. All in all, we understood each other just fine, but gradually talking became unnecessary because we connected on a musical level.
The programme began to take shape, and both sides contributed compositions. We looked at the material from all angles: how does the sheng fit with Rameau and Leclair, and much more important, do the composers fit Wu Wei? He showed a great preference for some compositions, for instance Tristes Apprêts from Castor et Pollux by Rameau. It was a perfect fit the first time we played it and it stayed that way ever since. We kept searching: is there room for improvisation? And if so, where exactly? At the same time, we started to gain more knowledge about the Chinese repertoire, the music Wu Wei was raised with.
“On a trip to Shanghai, I listened to classical Chinese orchestras, because I wanted to know how the composition structure of the orchestral sound was made. Remarkably, it sounded almost the same to me as Western music, however different the classical Chinese orchestra may be. Traditional Chinese music is full of counterparts and bass lines, which make for a kind of classical sound."
However, due to the pentatonic scale, that typical Chinese tone sequence, classically orchestrated pieces still have their own unique sound. We started to orchestrate the pieces ourselves and found room for improvisation. The pentatonic scale became our friend. As time went by, we started noticing the delicacy and elegance of the eastern melodies even more. The more we became absorbed by it, the more beautiful it got.
Cherish what needs to be kept, and be open to new sounds
The result is an album with unprecedented sounds. On the one hand European baroque music, and on the other hand traditional Chinese music. Wu Wei is a contemporary musician who propagates an age-old tradition. He is one of today’s most important sheng players worldwide. Just like Holland Baroque, Wu Wei is a guardian of ancient traditions and a sound innovator at the same time. It is not for nothing that his sheng case has a sticker on it that says: ‘Gutes bleibt, Neues kommt’ (Good things stay, new things come); something Holland Baroque fully supports.
If the essence of baroque aesthetics is preserved, baroque can be found in many places. For instance, we recognised it in Abendmusik. This could have been a slow movement out of a solo concerto for oboe or harpsichord. With Wu Wei, Baroque is not limited to the 18th century. It is about gesture, the way the notes take shape, the sound architecture, each individual instrument, and the ensemble as a whole. Wu Wei and our Baroque ensemble share the same love for phrasing, resonance, and expression. All these elements are our tribute to the 18th century.