Wu Wei / Holland Baroque Society

Silk Baroque

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This fusion of Baroque chamber orchestra and Chinese instrumentation -- not only the sheng, but also erhu and bawu -- is something other than just blank pastiche. It does not reproduce a historical setting, but it might have. For one thing, Western and Chinese musicians are known to have interacted in the 18th century. One Western player, known as Dede the European, even earned fame at the Turkish sultan's court. The sheng, in fact, was introduced to Russia around 1770 and was likely the parent of the accordion, the harmonica, and the other members of the free reed instrument family. Thus Silk Baroque, which combines the sheng and the Holland Baroque ensemble in various ways, has a nice feeling of how musicians might have felt their way in encountering unfamiliar music. Another point is that Dutch arrangers Judith and Tineke Steenbrink have placed the Chinese sounds in the context of a wider experimentation with exotic sounds in music of the 18th century. Telemann, who was a pioneer in this regard, and "Melante," the murky alter ego of Telemann, are present with a polonois that in Judith Steenbrink's arrangement becomes a Polonois Chinois, and other experimental composers of the day (Rameau and Jean-Féry Rebel) are also prominent. The whole project sprang from a chance meeting between sheng player Wu Wei and the Steenbrinks, and it has a pleasantly organic feeling with of exploring various solutions to the problem of combining Chinese and Western music. Among these solutions are the use of Western pentatonic melodies, the use of the sheng as a kind of concerto soloists, and the use of the Chinese instruments as a sort of sonic wash, which can be quite haunting. There are also solo works for Wu Wei drawing on traditional Chinese music. This may appeal most to listeners specifically interested in the idea of musical fusion, but it has a delightfully offbeat quality that's listenable for anyone.

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