Xu Shuya

Xu Shuya
b. 1961, Changchun, Jilin
Xu Shuya is now residing in France. A formidable influence in his musical career were his experiences during the Cultural Revolution, when he became a member of a Literary and Arts Troupe (Wenyidui). His entire family had been sent to the countryside in the northeast between 1969 and 1973. There, he watched performances of yangge (rice-planting dances) and heard music of the suona (Chinese oboe) and sheng (mouth-organ). Back in the city, he began to play the piano and cello and started to compose. In 1978, he entered the Shanghai Conservatory and studied composition with Zhu Jian’er and Ding Shande. After graduation he served as a lecturer at the Conservatory. In 1988, he received a French scholarship to attend the École Normale de Musique de Paris. In 1989 he was admitted to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique to study composition and electro-acoustical music with Ivo Malec and Laurent Cuniot. Already in his earliest compositions—in the string quartet Song of the Miao (Miaoge, 1982) and Violin Concerto (1982)—he had experimented with microtonality and other contemporary compositional techniques. In this he was inspired, like many composers of his generation, by the particular qualities of Chinese folk and traditional music: in his cello concerto Search (Suo, 1984), for example, he makes the cellist use glissando and pull the strings, as is done in qin-playing to inflect the pitch, while also alienating the pentatonic melody employed in the piece.
His compositions are expressionist studies in anti-melody, made up of small units of climax/anti-climax, as in his First Symphony Curves (Huxian, 1986) and in Choc (1989) for four cellos. He prefers harsh dissonances and is a master of orchestration. In Choc, Xu makes use of the full range of modernist string-technique: Bartók pizzicato, collegno playing, overpressuring. So, although he chooses a uniform body of sound, four instruments of essentially the same timbre, he achieves unforeseen effects. Chinese themes continue to dominate his music: in The Great Void II (Taiyi II, 1991) he enters the realm of musique concrète, the ‘concrete material’ here being a piece of xiao-music. His opera, Snow in August, was co-produced with Gao Xingjian in December 2002, and centres on the life of the Chan monk Huineng.
See also: folksongs (Han Chinese); traditional music

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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