Ge Ganru

Ge Ganru
b. 8 July 1954, Shanghai
Ge Ganru was born into a family of scientists and began to play the violin in his teens. Between 1971 and 1974 he was sent to Chongming Island to do farm work. He took his violin and managed to study with Nian Kaili, a former concertmaster of the Shanghai Philharmonic. Ge worked hard during the day and practised his violin at night, which usually left him with only three or four hours of sleep. He was voted a ‘model worker’. After Ge had founded an instrumental ensemble playing revolutionary songs and folk music for which he frequently wrote the arrangements, he was allowed to stay away from farm work for half a day for rehearsals. When in 1973 the Shanghai Conservatory started to admit students, Ge was selected and auditioned. He entered the violin class at the Conservatory in 1974. In 1977 he switched to the composition department and studied with Chen Gang (composer of the Butterfly Violin Concerto). After graduation, he received a scholarship to study at Columbia University with Chou Wen-chung and Mario Davidovsky (1983–92). He has since worked as a freelance composer in New York.
Ge Ganru is one of the first Chinese composers to begin to incorporate the sounds and techniques of New Music, which had been forgotten for years in China, in his compositions. Already in his earliest works, such as Twelve Preludes (1979), Moment of Time (1981) for piano, and Chamber Symphony (1982), dissonances dominate the harmonic framework. He also employs aleatory as well as twelve-tone and serial techniques.
Already in these compositions, Ge also takes up elements from Chinese musical tradition: frequent silences and the importance of single sounds are derived from guquin-zither-playing, for example. Apparently static but ever moving sound clusters dominate a number of his later compositions, too, such as the string quartet Prose Poetry (Fu, 1983) and the piano concerto Resolute (Wu, 1988). A particularly spectacular attempt at synthesis between Chinese musical practice and the structure of ‘New Music’ is his composition for amplified cello Customs (Yi Feng, 1982). This bruitish piece employs techniques derived from Chinese instruments such as sanxian, pipa and erhu. To incorporate the particular idiosyncrasies of these instruments into his music, he lowers the strings of the cello by one octave. The peculiar effects caused by the loose strings, a lot of playing behind the bridge and beating of the body of the cello, make this piece an exquisite example of how the holistic attitude to instrumental sound production in traditional Chinese music can be reinterpreted as ‘New Music’.
Kouwenhoven, Frank (1991). ‘Mainland China’s New Music (2): Madly Singing in the Mountains’. Chime 3:51–2.
(1992). ‘Mainland China’s New Music (3): The Age of Pluralism’. Chime 5: 109–11.
Mittler, Barbara (1997). Dangerous Tunes. The Politics of Chinese Music in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China since 1949. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 173–7, 328–30.
Steinitz, Richard (1992). ‘Ge Gan-ru’. In Brian Morton and Pamela Collins (eds), Contemporary Composers. Chicago: St James’ Press, 320–2.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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