Ten Thousand Miles to Kaifeng 開封萬里行
East meets Middle East – A musical exploration of the cultural exchange between the Jews and the Chinese
Orchid Ensemble showcases its members’ most personal repertoire: a concert that pays tribute to the centuries-old links between Chinese and Jewish culture. The project began about 11 years ago as a labour of love for the ensemble’s founders, the wife and husbandteam of Lan Tung and Jonathan Bernard. Tung was an award-winning erhu player in Taiwan before settling in Canada with her family at age 20. Bernard is a Canadian percussionist of Jewish ancestry.
What they discovered together is fascinating: tangible evidence of a Jewish presence in China can be dated to the seventh century when Sephardic Jews arrived from Persia along the several Silk Roads, settling in China’s capital city, Xi”an. By the Northern Sung dynasty (960-1127 CE), a thriving Jewish community had been established in the new capital Kaifeng, and it remained active for the next 1200 years. More recently Russian Jews settled in Harbin and Ashkenazi Jewish refugees settled in Shanghai. There is also a long-ago-established Jewish community in Hong Kong.
What has not survived, however, is any sense of what the music made by the Jewish settlers and their Chinese neighbours might have sounded like, or to what extent their respective musical traditions were merged. Thus, Tung and Bernard used their imaginations to create the music that might have been – compositions that find common ground between Jewish and Chinese styles. They also turned to Moshe Denberg, the composer behind B.C.’s well-known Jewish music ensemble, Tzimmes.
The resulting concert promises a fascinating array of work. Among the pieces to be performed is a Denberg composition called “El Ginat Egoz,” which will feature the VCC Madrigal Singers, and a unique arrangement of a traditional Chinese piece called “Hundred Birds Honouring the Pheonix,” which has been transformed for soprano sax by Mike Braverman, the lightening-fast reed player behind Olam. The show will also mark the world premier of “El Adon,” a Denberg composition based on a sacred Jewish melody, and “Ba Ban Variations,” a new composition by Tung. In addition, there will be some Jewish-influenced pieces from the group’s 2005 Juno-nominated CD The Road to Kashgar, which explored Chinese interaction with cultures all along the Silk Road. With Ten Thousand Miles to Kai-Feng, The Orchid Ensemble once again takes Chinese music to places no artist has taken it before.