Saturday, April 09, 2011

Pianist Fang Zhang: The Program

Rondo in c major Op.51 No.1: L.V. Beethoven

Funérailles from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses: F. Liszt

Sheng, Dan, Jing , Mo, Chou : A Mao Wang

Two Etudes: Embraceable You, I got Rhythm: G.Gershwin-E.Wild


Sonata in b minor:  F. Liszt 

Artist's Commentary

Sheng dan jing mo chou” is a piano work inspired by Role Types in Chinese traditional opera -Beijing Opera.

Beijing opera followed the traditions of classical Chinese operas, and was developed on the basis of Kunqu opera and many other local operas. Accordingly, the characters on its stage were divided into sheng, dan, jing and chou, the four major role types, according to their sexes, personalities, ages, occupations and social status (In the early phase of Beijing opera, there used to be sheng, dan, jing, mo and chou five major categories. Later, sheng and mo merged into one.). Different role types had their specific features in singing and other aspects of performance.


The Sheng (生) is the main male role in Beijing opera. This role has numerous subtypes. The laosheng is a dignified older role. These characters have a gentle and cultivated disposition and wear sensible costumes. One type of laosheng role is the hongsheng, a red-faced older male. The only two hongsheng roles are Guan Gong, the Chinese God of War, and Zhao Kuang-yin, the first Song Dynasty emperor. Young male characters are known as xiaosheng. These characters sing in a high, shrill voice with occasional breaks to represent the voice changing period of adolescence. Depending on the character's rank in society, the costume of the xiaosheng may be either elaborate or simple. Off-stage, xiaosheng actors are often involved with beautiful women by virtue of the handsome and young image they project.The wusheng is a martial character for roles involving combat. They are highly trained in acrobatics, and have a natural voice when singing.Troupes will always have a laosheng actor. A xiaosheng actor may also be added to play roles fitting to his age. In addition to these main Sheng, the troupe will also have a secondary laosheng.


The Dan (旦) refers to any female role in Beijing opera. Dan roles were originally divided into five subtypes. Old women were played by laodan, martial women were wudan, young female warriors were daomadan, virtuous and elite women were qingyi, and vivacious and unmarried women were huadan. One of Mei Lanfang's most important contributions to Beijing opera was in pioneering a sixth type of role, the huashan. This role type combines the status of the qingyi with the sensuality of the huadan.A troupe will have a young Dan to play main roles, as well as an older Dan for secondary parts.Four examples of famous Dans are Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu, Shang Xiaoyun, and Xun Huisheng.[52] In the early years of Beijing opera, all Dan roles were played by men. Wei Changsheng, a male Dan performer in the Qing court, developed the cai ciao, or "false foot" technique, to simulate the bound feet of women and the characteristic gait that resulted from the practice. The ban on female performers also led to a controversial form of brothel, known as the xianggong tangzi, in which men paid to have sex with young boys dressed as females. Ironically, the performing skills taught to the youths employed in these brothels led many of them to become professional Dan later in life.


The Jing (净) is a painted face male role. Depending on the repertoire of the particular troupe, he will play either primary or secondary roles.This type of role will entail a forceful character, so a Jing must have a strong voice and be able to exaggerate gestures.[55] Beijing opera boasts 15 basic facial patterns, but there are over 1000 specific variations. Each design is unique to a specific character. The patterns and coloring are thought to be derived from traditional Chinese color symbolism and divination on the lines of a person's face, which is said to reveal personality. Easily recognizable examples of coloring include red, which denotes uprightness and loyalty, white, which represents evil or crafty characters, and black, which is given to characters of soundness and integrity.Three main types of Jing roles are often seen. These include tongchui, roles that heavily involve singing, jiazi, roles with less emphasis on singing and more on physical performance, and wujing, martial and acrobatic roles.


The Chou (丑) is a male clown role. The Chou usually plays secondary roles in a troupe.[57] Indeed, most studies of Beijing opera classify the Chou as a minor role. The name of the role is a homophone of the Mandarin Chinese word chou, meaning "ugly". This reflects the traditional belief that the clown's combination of ugliness and laughter could drive away evil spirits. Chou roles can be divided into Wen Chou, civilian roles such as merchants and jailers, and Wu Chou, minor military roles. The Wu Chou is one of the most demanding in Beijing opera, because of its combination of comic acting, acrobatics, and a strong voice. Chou characters are generally amusing and likable, if a bit foolish. Their costumes range from simple for characters of lower status to elaborate, perhaps overly so, for high status characters. Chou characters wear special face paint, called xiaohualian, that differs from that of Jing characters. The defining characteristic of this type of face paint is a small patch of white chalk around the nose. This can represent either a mean and secretive nature or a quick wit.

Beneath the whimsical persona of the Chou, a serious connection to the form of Beijing opera exists. The Chou is the character most connected to the guban, the drums and clapper commonly used for musically accompaniment during performances. The Chou actor often uses the guban in solo performance, especially when performing Shu Ban, light-hearted verses spoken for comedic effect. The clown is also connected to the small gong and cymbals, percussion instruments that symbolize the lower classes and the raucous atmosphere inspired by the role. Although Chou characters do not sing frequently, their arias feature large amounts of improvisation. This is considered a license of the role, and the orchestra will accompany the Chou actor even as he bursts into an unscripted folk song. However, due to the standardization of Beijing opera and political pressure from government authorities, Chou improvisation has lessened in recent years. The Chou has a vocal timbre that is distinct from other characters, as the character will often speak in the common Beijing dialect, as opposed to the more formal dialects of other characters.

Artist Bio

Fang Zhang enjoys an incredible career both as pianist and performer spread over three continents. He is prize winner and finalist of Viardo International Piano Competition where he was awarded with Rachmaninoff Society Special Prize, and Missouri Southern International Piano Competition. Mr. Zhang is widely recognized for his technical demands of the repertoire and artistic imagination. He completed graduate degrees at the Eastman School of Music (MM), where he also received the Eastman Performer's Certificate, the School's highest award for distinction in performance and Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing (BM).

Frequent guest as an orchestral soloist, Mr. Zhang has performed at some of the most prestige venues in China and United States. As an active chamber musician, he was awarded the First Prize as the collaborative pianist in the 2007 Jesse Kniesel Lieder Competition. In 2008, he co-founded and jointed as pianist the Beijing Chamber Ensemble. The group is invited for season 2011-2012 to perform and give master classes at some of the most prestige educational institutions in USA like Eastman School of Music, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and University of Colorado at Boulder.

In 2010 concert season, Mr.Zhang performance with Xiamen Orchestra Symphony and Shenzhen Orchestra Symphony resulted in CD release “Live Concert under the Beijing EAV Publishing Center.

Born in Shenyang, China, Mr. Zhang began piano lessons at the age of four and won his first piano competition at age of seven. He studied with Thomas Schumacher, Guo Zhihong, Fang Zhang (no relation), Yafen Zhu, Qifang Li and Lu Pan. Currently, Mr. Zhang is on the faculty at the Beijing Renmin University of China, School of Arts where he maintains studio of 18 students.

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