Also called the Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year in China marks the traditional start of the agricultural season. It’s also a time to admire the hearty plum blossom, which flowers so early that snow is sometimes still on the ground. Enjoy these performances of music celebrating plum blossoms, lingering snow, and the arrival of springtime. This compilation draws from concerts at the museum featuring Bing Xia on zheng, Yi Zhou on pipa and qin, Miao Yi Min on xiao and dizi, and the Gang-a-Tsui Theater, all recorded live at the National Museum of Asian Art.
(一点金 or 秋芙蓉 Yi dian jin / Qiu fu rong)
Bing Xia, zheng
Sunny Spring and White Snow
(陽春白雪 Yang chun bai xue)
Yi Zhou, pipa
Three Variations of Plum Blossom
(梅花三弄 Mei hua san long)
arranged by Miao Yi Min and Zhou Yi
Miao Yi Min, xiao and dizi; Yi Zhou, qin
Pu: Plum Blossom
Performed by the Gang-a-Tsui Theater
Spring Comes to the Snowy Mountain
(雪山春晓 Xue shan chun xiao)
Performed by Bing Xia, zheng
Spring (一点金 or 秋芙蓉 Yi dian jin / Qiu fu rong)
This piece was performed by Bing Xia on zheng (zither) in 2000 in conjunction with the exhibition Music in the Age of Confucius.
Sunny Spring and White Snow (陽春白雪 Yang chun bai xue)
This is a traditional piece created by an anonymous composer of the Wang School (Wang Yuting, 1872–1951). Yi Zhou on pipa performed it in 2002 in conjunction with the exhibition Music in the Age of Confucius.
Three Variations of Plum Blossom (梅花三弄 Mei hua san long)
This classic piece is traditionally attributed to Huan Yi (d. 391), a military general and musician of the Jin dynasty (266–420). His famous performances on the bamboo flute generated long-standing legends of his prowess and integrity. As noted by qin specialist Marilyn Wong Gleysteen, “while snow still covers the ground, the plum is the first to bloom in the chill of late winter, a tribute to its stalwart spirit and vigor. Along with pine and bamboo, the plum is known in Chinese painting and poetry as one of the ‘Three Friends of Winter.’ This is a musical ode to the blossoming plum, which blooms only from new shoots growing from the old tree trunk—an analogy to the fresh but hardy spirit of the scholar. The tune of the refrain was adapted for the guqin in the eighth century and first published in the early fifteenth century. This version after master Wu Zhaoji is also known as ‘Old Plum Blossom’ and differs from a later more embellished version.” The piece is heard here in an arrangement by the two performers Miao Yi Min and Zhou Yi. It was recorded in 2002 in conjunction with the exhibition Music in the Age of Confucius.
Pu: Plum Blossom
This is an excerpt from one of the four core compositions of nanguan opera, a genre dating to the Ming dynasty that is still practiced throughout Chinese-speaking regions throughout Asia. “Plum Blossom” comprises five chapters, describing poetically how the early-blooming plum blossom tree produces lovely flowers even in severe winter. The melody follows the plum blossom from bud to full bloom, expounding on the way it represents the moral integrity of a true gentleman. The melody, as it unfolds, is thought to mimic the blooming process itself. It was performed in 2007 in conjunction with the exhibition East of Eden: Gardens in Asian Art.
Spring Comes to the Snowy Mountain (雪山春晓 Xue shan chun xiao)
This piece was performed by Bing Xia, zheng, in 2000 in conjunction with the exhibition Music in the Age of Confucius.
Bing Xia, zheng, is the artistic director of the Washington Guzheng Society. She majored in guzheng performance at Nanjing Normal University and the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. She became a guzheng soloist in the Xuzhou City Song and Dance Ensemble. After moving to the United States, Bing Xia was a featured performer in the Sackler exhibition Music in the Age of Confucius and at the Kennedy Center’s Asian Song Festival. She performed again at the Freer as part of the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s 2009 celebration. She was a featured performer at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China for Vice Premier Qian Qichen and Secretary of State Colin Powell. She returned to the Freer and Sackler in 2013 to perform Chinese music related to the phoenix for the exhibition Nine Deaths, Two Births: Xu Bing’s Phoenix Project and in 2019 as part of the Smithsonian’s “Year of Music” project. Her performances have been broadcast on NPR and Voice of America.
Yi Min Miao, xiao and dizi (bamboo flutes), has earned prizes at the Chinese Young Musicians’ Competition, the National Flute Competition, and the International Jiangnan Sizhu competition. He is also winner of the 1998 Gold Record from the China Recording Company and the 1997 Chun Sheng Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Fine Arts. He has performed as a soloist with the Jinan Qianwei Traditional Orchestra of Shandong province and toured with the Shanghai Traditional Orchestra to Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Bahamas, and Europe. In the United States, he has performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, John Hancock Hall, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has lectured and conducted workshops at Yale University, Cornell University, and New York University.
Yi Zhou, pipa (lute) and qin (zither), is a graduate of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. She is the winner of top prizes at the Shanghai Spring Music Festival and the Art Cup International Chinese Traditional Instrument Contest. She has toured as a soloist with the Chinese National Music Group to Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Italy. Since coming to the United States, she has performed at Merkin Concert Hall, John Hancock Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, New York University, the Peabody Conservatory of Music, and the Eastman School of Music. She is an active performer of both traditional and contemporary music and has been a guest lecturer at New York University. Her music has been recorded on the Moon in Sky label and published by the New Era Sound and Video Company.
Gang-a-Tsui Theater was founded in Taiwan in 1993 by Chou Yi-chang. The company premiered its first production at the Taipei County Cultural Center in 1995 and was commissioned by the national Center for Traditional Arts to carry out the Nanguan Opera Transmission Project in 1998. The following year, they toured Mexico as part of the International Traditional Dance Festival. The ensemble appeared in Singapore for the 1999 International Nanguan Gala. They were featured artists at the Asian Traditional Arts Festival held in South Korea in 2002. The next year saw their first American tour, with performances in New York, Washington, New Orleans, and Atlanta. Since then, they have performed in Japan, Poland, and Indonesia. The musicians in this ensemble were Wei Ei-hui (paiban, pipa), Wen Ming-I (dongxiao, aia), Wang Hsueh-mei (paiban), Chen Chia-wen (drum, erxian), Hsu Chih-cheng (pipa, xiaojia, sanxian), Lin Wei-chen (erxian, sikuai), Liao Yu-ning (luo, erxian), Lee Cheng-yeng (dongxiao, xiang zhan), and Tseng Chao-chih (dongxiao and xiang zhan).
This podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Audio recording and editing by Andy Finch and Suraya Mohamed. Web production by Gio Camozzi. Copyediting by Ian Fry and Nancy Eickel. The performance by Bing Xia was recorded in 2000 in conjunction with the exhibition Music in the Age of Confucius. The performance by Zhou Yi and Yi Min Miao was recorded in 2002 in conjunction with the exhibition Music in the Age of Confucius and in cooperation with the New York Chinese Cultural Center. The performance by the Gang-a-Tsui Theater was recorded in 2007 in cooperation with the Taipei Cultural Center and in conjunction with the exhibition East of Eden: Gardens in Asian Art.