Guqin Concert by Wang Long in Athens and Santorini
Playing the Guqin (which translates as 'ancient lute') was once one on the four arts in Ancient China, along with Go, calligraphy, and painting. In a short interview before her performance at La Ponta on July 3rd, Wang Long described the way in which the instrument connected Chinese people to their past and 'to a quieter time.' The art of playing the Guqin was originally conceived of an act of meditation.
Within the music there are intentional 'sounds without sound,' and these spaces between notes are considered as important as the notes themselves. As the listener fills the spaces a connection is created with both the player and the instrument, and any performative distance is collapsed. Although the Guqin is seminally Chinese in some respects, this space is open to any careful listener, and Wang Long believes the music has universal appeal. In fact Guqin music was sent into space on the Voyager 1 and 2 in 1977. The piece that was sent, entitled Flowing Water, is the longest on the Voyager Golden Disc - which is currently traveling through interstellar space. She also spoke about her own connection with the instrument, which she had chosen to dedicate herself to even though it had been unfashionable at the time. Playing it gave her peace, and a link to the quieter time its sound evoked.
The performance at La Ponta was her first outside China and Greece's first experience of the Guqin in concert. Wang Long entered the tower's main chamber dressed in flowing silk and sat down at a table designed especially for the Guqin. The audience was concentrated, keenly aware that something unique was about to happen. Her first song described, wordlessly, the flight of geese as they ascended and descended from a river bank. She drew a vivid moving image with her notes, pauses, and flourishes. She went on to sing about a cool autumn wind with remarkable delicacy, recalling all of the regret and melancholy that can be brought on by the arrival of winter. Towards the end of her performance she was accompanied by a Xiao (an Ancient Chinese end-blown flute) and she finished the concert playing an improvised piece with La Ponta's own Yannis Pantazis on the pan-flute. They danced around the Chinese pentatonic scale, a proving ground for music's power to break down borders.
Yannis Pantazis has just embarked a ambitious documentary project, entitled 'Five,' that will explore the use of the pentatonic scale in different musical cultures on five continents. He's keen to discover what has drawn so many different people to the same scale. Listening to the Guqin it seemed clear that our common humanity is the draw, as notes penned by Chinese masters long since passed resonated loud and clear with a young Greek audience on a summer evening in Santorini.