Advisory Council for Center

A composer, a film director, an architect, an anchorman, and a physicist are among the eighteen professionals who will serve as members of the newly formed Advisory Council of the Center for U.S.-China Arts Exchange. The establishment of the council is part of the administrative restructuring of the Center announced by Columbia’s President Michael I. Sovern in the spring of 1981. Members of the Advisory Council are: A. Doak Barnett, senior fellow of the Brookings Institution; Leonard Bernstein, conductor and composer; John Chancellor, NBC Network News correspondent; William Delano, attorney; Miles Forman, film director; Porter McKeever, consultant, Rockefeller Family and Associates; Arthur Miller, playwright; Waldemar A. Nielsen, president, Waldemar A. Nielsen, Inc.; Robert B. Oxnam, president. The Asia Society; I. M. Pel, architect; Russell Phillips, executive vice president, Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Arthur H. Rosen, president. National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, Inc.; Norman Ross, senior vice president for communications, First National Bank of Chicago; Henry P. Sailer, attorney, Covington & Burling; Meyer Schapiro, art historian; Audrey Topping, author, photographer and filmmaker; Herman Wouk, author; and Yang Chen-ning, physicist. Fourteen members attended the first council meeting at the Sichuan Pavilion on December 1, 1981.

At the reception following the first meeting of the Center's Advisory Council. Left to right. Michelle Vosper, Center program coordinator, Mrs. I. M. Pel, Porter McKeever, and I.M. Pei
At the reception following the first meeting of the Center's Advisory Council. Left to right. Michelle Vosper, Center program coordinator, Mrs. I. M. Pel, Porter McKeever, and I.M. Pei

Schuyler Chapin, dean of Columbia’s School of the Arts, made the opening remarks, followed by Chou Wen-chung, director of the Center, who reported on the Center’s goals, policies, funding, and future direction. Program coordinator Michelle Vosper outlined the Center’s programs to date. Spouses and other guests joined council members for a banquet following the two-hour meeting. The guests of honor were His Excellency the Ambassador Mi Guojun, Deputy Permanent Representative of the PRC to the United Nations, and the Honorable Wang Zicheng, Minister-Counsellor, Embassy of the PRC. Also in attendance were Mr. and Mrs. John Bresnan, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Scheuer, Mr. and Mrs. David Gilbert, and visiting conductor Chen Xieyang.

China Welcomes American Artists

The visit to China last April of a delegation of American artists marked the first exchange program between the Center and the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, the professional, non governmental arts organization that oversees all of China’s national associations in the arts. The delegation included photographer Cornell Capa, composer and Center director Chou Wen-chung, set designer Ming Cho Lee, choreographer Alwin Nikolais, sculptor George Segal, folklorist Peter Seitel, writer Susan Sontag, Center program coordinator Michelle Vosper, and filmmaker Robert Young.

The delegation was the first the Federation has invited in recent years. Founded in 1949, the Federation coordinated and supervised all professional activities in the arts for fifteen years, making it the most active cultural organization in China. After ceasing to function during the Cultural Revolution, the Federation resumed its activities in 1980. That same year the Center became the Federation’s official counterpart in the United States.

Members of the delegation spent two weeks in Beijing, Luoyang, Xian, Hangzhou, and Shanghai giving lectures and demonstrations and taking part in other exchanges of ideas and information with Chinese colleagues. Susan Sontag lectured on topics such as modern American literature and visited the writer Ding Ling in her home. Ming Cho Lee gave numerous slide presentations showing his own work as well as examples of recent developments in western stage design.

Audiences in many cities saw Robert Young’s documentary film about illegal immigrants from Mexico, Alambrista! Peter Seitel discussed the efforts of American folklorists to preserve folk art traditions in the United States and showed a film of the annual American Folklife Festival, sponsored by the office of Folklife Programs of the Smithsonian Institution. At the Institute of National Music in Beijing, which specializes in the training of musicians in traditional Chinese music, Chou Wen-chung discussed the future of traditional music education and preservation of this art form. Cornell Capa met China’s most distinguished photographers, and George Segal visited art galleries and met with students and teachers in their studios.

Zhou Yang, chairman of the China Federation, hosted a dinner reception at the Great Hall of the People. Many of China’s most prominent artists attended, including the playwright Cao Yu, poet Ai Qing, film critic and writer Xia Yan, and writer Ding Ling. Then United States Charge d’Affaires J. Stapleton Roy and Secretary of Cultural Affairs John Thomson were also at the dinner. 

Sharing Impressions 

Six months after their return, several members of the delegation gathered at the International Center of Photography to take part in a forum called On China. Organized by Cornell Capa, it provided an opportunity for the visitors to share their impressions of China.

First on the program was Chou Wen-chung who gave a brief assessment of China’s traditional and modern views of art and the role of artists in Chinese society. Chinese society is by nature close-knit, he said, and it emphasizes conformity and adherence to tradition. Artists are expected to uphold the legacy and contribute to the well-being of the people. For that reason, “Chinese artists feel they have a responsibility which goes beyond that of being involved in artistic endeavor for the sake of art alone.” Aware of American criticism of contemporary Chinese art forms, Chou stressed that stylistic progress comes slowly to Chinese art; westerners should be more patient as the Chinese experiment with new modes of expression. In an optimistic summation of the state of music in the PRC Chou said, “Music in China, traditional or western, is alive and well after the Cultural Revolution. Young talents abound, whether the instrument is violin or erhu [the Chinese fiddle] and music education for the young is excellent. The problem is not in technique but in the limited knowledge of western repertory and understanding of musical expression. This is not surprising, in view of three decades of isolation from the west. Chinese musicians are anxious to learn from the United States. They need no help, however, in their efforts to preserve and develop their own traditional music. Composers are prolific these days. Ideology demands a highly conservative style but young composers are quick to explore and experiment once new developments in the west become known to them.”

Alwin Nikolais, the innovative modern dancer and choreographer, described the elegant and highly trained young dancers he saw in China as “Rolls Royces without drivers.” The trip exposed Nikolais to many aspects of dance in China and gave him a sense of the work needed to be done in the United States. Chinese dance students are selected at an early age for their physique and beauty, he told the audience at the forum; their perfect lines reflect the Soviet influence on their training. But Nikolais found the tendency to adopt western styles and techniques at the expense of China’s traditional dances distressing. In his conversations with Chinese dancers he explained that modern dance in America was strongly influenced by Asian art; Ruth St. Denis, the “mother of American modern dance,” was fascinated by Oriental movement and studied in China for two years. “The Chinese were shocked to realize that they were borrowing back what we learned from them,” said Nikolais.

George Segal found China’s ancient culture to be an impressive mix of both the primitive and the sophisticated. The Chinese people, he feels, share with Americans an easy and almost mocking attitude toward themselves. He was struck by the pervasive wish for the “good life” in the western sense. In visiting art academies and galleries, Segal noted that Chinese sculptors are turning away from the Soviet model as they begin to examine European and American styles. Contemporary paintings struck him as prettified versions of the old masterpieces, which were painted on silk.

Visiting China was an emotional experience for Ming Cho Lee, who grew up in Shanghai and came to the United States more than thirty years ago. Witnessing the resilience of Chinese artists who had suffered the devastation of the Cultural Revolution, Lee was moved by their “energy and need to recapture artistic expression” and their capacity to adapt to the extreme lack of materials. He was impressed by the level of skill of the set designers at drama schools in Beijing and Shanghai. Yet he felt that by using oils, a medium less fluid than the traditional Chinese ink and washes, Chinese designers were sacrificing the ephemeral quality of their sketches. He explained that in designing for the theater, there must be a feeling of continuity, “of being on the way.”

Michelle Vosper concluded the presentation with insights into the actual process of artistic exchange. Emphasizing that “culture is an important element in artistic expression,” she pointed out the role of ideals of individualism and independence in Americans’ perceptions of Chinese art. When observing Chinese art forms such as productions of the Peking Opera, Americans are open-minded, she said. When the Chinese art form bears little resemblance to those with which they are familiar, Americans have no frame of reference. Yet when observing Chinese works in media generally regarded as western, such as ballet, oil painting, and film, Americans are less tolerant and more inclined to judge Chinese work in these western forms as “unspontaneous” or “oldfashioned.” This criticism, said Vosper, could actually be interpreted as “not western enough.” Americans are often unaware that their attitudes are rooted in a unique cultural experience and that they do not necessarily possess the criteria to judge the work of artists from other countries. It is important to recognize, she said, that just as “Americans cherish individuality, Chinese give priority to being a part of some thing larger.”

Members of the delegation agreed that their trip to China provided the basis for further understanding of the culture and modes of artistic expression of their Chinese colleagues.

It also afforded a valuable opportunity to view their own work and American art in general from a different perspective. The Center has invited the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles to send a delegation to the United States in the fall of 1982.

American Artists In China

Finale, Fanfare, and Focus

In 1981 the Center, in conjunction with the Central Philharmonic Society and the Central Conservatory of Music, arranged long-term visits to China for three performing artists—David Gilbert, Ronald Anderson, and Jacob Lateiner. 

Grand Finale for Gilbert

David Gilbert, music director and conductor of the Greenwich Philharmonia, made his final appearance as principal guest conductor of Beijing’s Central Philharmonic Orchestra in March of this year. With it he completed his twelve-month assignment with the orchestra, which was broken into four terms to accommodate his busy stateside schedule.

Nonie and David Gilbert with interpreter Gao Ping at Mirror Lake resort in Mudan Jiang
Nonie and David Gilbert with interpreter Gao Ping at Mirror Lake resort in Mudan Jiang

In June 1981 Gilbert returned to China for the third time to take on a hectic season of concerts in Shanghai, Beijing, and cities in northeastern China. After spending two weeks in Shanghai working with the Shanghai Philharmonic and the Shanghai Ballet Orchestra, Gilbert went on to Beijing for rehearsals with the Central Philharmonic. With the orchestra he toured Mudan Jiang, Harbin, and Changchun. Center-sponsored American soloists Ronald Anderson, Jacob Lateiner, and Lin Cho-liang were featured in the philharmonic’s August concerts conducted by Gilbert. In September he led the orchestra for a recording of Chopin’s Piano Concerto #2 with soloist Berenice Lipson-Gruzen. The recording, the orchestra’s first on an American label, will be released by Desto records this fall.

The focus of Gilbert ‘s work with the orchestra was the development of contemporary western repertoire. Throughout his visits he was impressed with the ability of the orchestra to learn and retain the style of the new works. Gilbert also has great admiration for China’s indigenous forms of music, such as their traditional opera and orchestral works for Chinese instruments. He was encouraged to see composers writing music for both western and traditional instruments and noted, “Although the medium is of western origin, it is important for Chinese composers to develop their own voice in that medium.”

Fanfare for Anderson

Last summer, at the Center’s recommendation, the Central Philharmonic Society invited trumpet player Ronald Anderson to Beijing to train trumpet players and brass ensembles. Anderson is first trumpet for the New York City Ballet Orchestra and is a faculty member at SUNY Stony Brook, SUNY Purchase, and NYU. He is recognized as a Baroque virtuoso and as a champion of contemporary solo and chamber music works for trumpet.

Anderson worked with nine private students and two brass quintets late last summer, exposing them to a broad range of trumpet and brass literature, ranging from the Italian, Flemish, English, German, and French Renaissance and Baroque periods to Scott Joplin rags. The students were enthusiastic about the new music; to whet their appetites he taught Dahl, Shapey, Whittenberg, Wolpe, and Wuorinen, among others.

Anderson also lectured and performed during his stay. His lecture demonstration on contemporary western chamber works included performances of two works for trumpet and tape by Charles Dodge and Justin Connolly and a discussion of spatial notations, tempo problems, and the use of electronics. In September Anderson performed Haydn’s “Trumpet Concerto in E flat Major” and Wolpe’s “Solo Piece” with the Central Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of David Gilbert. Shortly before Anderson’s departure, his students gave a recital that included solo and ensemble works by Susato, Scheldt, Biber, Vivaldi, Hummel, and Haydn.

For Lateiner: Focus on Individuality

In August 1981 the Center sent concert pianist Jacob Lateiner to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where over six hundred students and teachers work and live. Lateiner, who has taught at Juilliard since 1966, spent seven weeks at the conservatory giving private lessons and master classes. Among those who attended the master classes were faculty from the conservatory and other institutions in Beijing and other provinces. The classes were recorded and transcribed for distribution all over China.

After his performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 (the "Emperor" concerto) with the Central Philharmonic , Jacob Lateiner receives congratulations from Wu Zuqiang, deputy director of the Central Conservatory, Yi Kaiji, head of the piano department, and Pan Yiming, professor of piano
After his performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 (the "Emperor" concerto) with the Central Philharmonic , Jacob Lateiner receives congratulations from Wu Zuqiang, deputy director of the Central Conservatory, Yi Kaiji, head of the piano department, and Pan Yiming, professor of piano

Lateiner’s plan was to work intensively with a select group of students and stress fundamentals. He began by covering the standard repertoire-Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, and Brahms – and then progressed to the Bartok sonata, a first in China. With his varied group of Chinese students, “as with students everywhere,” he said, “my hardest job was to try to make them sing a beautiful musical line on the piano as a great singer would do naturally.”

According to Lateiner, the major problem with the training of pianists in China is that there is too much emphasis on imitation and not enough on individuality. The Chinese must transplant the western tradition onto theirs, not simply copy it, he said. At the same time, however, they must maintain their own traditions. In student performances of traditional Chinese music, Lateiner heard the sensitivity and individuality he was trying to elicit from his students of western music. Lateiner is confident, however, that the students’ open mindedness and boundless enthusiasm and their desire to expand their artistic horizons will enable them to progress during this period of artistic modernization in China.

Beverly Sills Shows How It’s Done

“I’m interested to see for myself the approach taken in China, but I intend to conduct the master classes exactly as I do in this country,” said Beverly Sills before her three-week trip to China last spring. Sills, the general director of the New York City Opera, traveled under the Center’s auspices as the guest of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. “I think it’s better to demonstrate how it’s done in the United States and the western operatic world, and I hope this will serve as an example of true cultural exchange.”

Judging from the warm reception she received from the Chinese, Sills fulfilled her initial hopes and expectations through her work with students in the opera and vocal departments at the Central Conservatory as well as in Xian, Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou. Accompanying Sills on the tour were husband Peter Greenough, daughter Meredith, and Betty and Schuyler Chapin, dean of Columbia’ s School of the Arts and former general manager of the Metropolitan Opera.

Beverly Sills and Schuyler Chapin at the Central Conservatory of Music with Yu Yixuan, head of the vocal department, vice director Jiang Ying, and professor Shen Xiang
Beverly Sills and Schuyler Chapin at the Central Conservatory of Music with Yu Yixuan, head of the vocal department, vice director Jiang Ying, and professor Shen Xiang

Shortly after their arrival in Beijing, Sills and Chapin held auditions for the master classes. They heard approximately twenty-five students the first day and from among them chose six for the master classes, which drew many eager students. “The students chosen for participation had common problems,” said Chapin. “We chose them so our remarks about problems would have the broadest possible audience.” Both Chapin and Sills believe that the careers of many Chinese students and teachers of western opera would be enhanced by study in the United States or West Germany, where they would have access to the coaching and roles they cannot get in China despite the long history of western opera in that country.

Opera is part of a strong oral tradition that has existed in China since the tenth century, and western opera has been performed in China since 1760, the year a group of Jesuit musicians staged a command performance of Piccini’s La Buona Figliola for the emperor. By the 1920s the standard western operas were performed frequently, particularly in Shanghai, which was a center for Russian and European expatriates. Light opera became especially prominent after the formation of the People’s Republic, and for many years Chinese companies wrote operas according to western conventions. This practice was abolished during the Cultural Revolution.

Recently, the Chinese have staged new operas by Chinese composers as well as productions of western operas. In January the Central Opera Institute of Beijing presented Bizet’s Carmen with the assistance of French director Rene Terrason and conductor Jean Perisson. It was the first time in thirty years that the opera had been performed in Beijing.

Shanghai publicity for a concert performance by Anita Aronoff
When professional soprano Anita Aronoff performed in Shanghai and Beijing last September, one of the highlights of the program was “Oh Susannah,” which she sang in Chinese. The concert was recorded for radio and TV in both cities. Aronoff also gave master classes at the Central Opera Academy in Beijing and the Shanghai Philharmonic Society. Impressed with the young music students she encountered, Aronoff commented, “Knowing how difficult it is to learn a new language, I found their dedication striking.”

“Miniature UN” for DeLay, Lin, and Rivers

“The kids are marvelous and the teaching is good,” said renowned violin teacher Dorothy DeLay after a three-week tour of China’s major conservatories last August. “The students are doing as well as those in England and Germany.” DeLay, a faculty member at Juilliard and several other conservatories here, visited China at the invitation of the Ministry of Culture. With her for the series of master classes, performances, and recitals were Lin Choliang, a young violinist who is a student of Delay’s, and Sandra Rivers, piano accompanist. Lin’s mother, Mr. and Mrs. Porter McKeever (his American godparents), and their daughter Karen traveled with the artists throughout China.

DeLay, whose trip was funded by the Asian Cultural Council, conducted master classes and auditions in Beijing and Shanghai, where she taped the performances of China’s most talented young violinists. Two of the students have been chosen for scholarships at Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music beginning in September; they will spend part of August at the Aspen Music Festival. With them will be two Chinese violin teachers, for whom the Center is arranging a fall tour of major American conservatories.

Lin and Rivers performed with orchestras in Beijing and Shanghai and gave recitals and master classes in Xian, Chengdu, and Guangzhou. Lin performed Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor with the Central Philharmonic Orchestra under David Gilbert. With the Shanghai Philharmonic, conducted by Huang Yijun, Lin performed Saint Saens’ Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor. Lin found the trip an elating experience and remarked on the unique atmosphere of his performance. “There I was, born in Taiwan, trained in the United States, playing a Finnish composition with an American conductor on a Beijing stage, all with my mother, who hadn’t been in China for thirty years, in the audience. It was like a miniature UN.”

Chinese Artists In America

Educating a New Audience

Last spring and summer the Center sponsored visits to this country by three prominent artists from China – Chen Gang, Mao Yuan, and Li Keyu. Their programs were funded by the Henry Luce Foundation.

Songs for Butterfly Lovers

Chen Gang is a composer and professor of composition at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, director of the Research Group in Music Composition, and a member of the board of directors of the Chinese Musicians Association. As a young student at the Shanghai Conservatory, Chen studied composition and theory with the noted composer Ding Shande. During this time he and his classmate He Zhanhao composed the violin concerto, “Liang Shan-po yu Chu Ying-t’ai,” or “Butterfly Lover’s Concerto,” which has been recorded and performed internationally.

Upon graduation he was offered a teaching position at the conservatory, where he remained until the Cultural Revolution. At that time Chen Gang was sharply criticized for the violin concerto, which was said to promote feudal ideas of romantic love. This degree of censorship continued into the early seventies. Chen Gang and other composers ceased writing; older works, both Chinese and western, were banned. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution and the subsequent reopening of the conservatory in 1976, however, Chen has been composing prolifically. He recently completed an orchestral work, “Clear Water Love Song,” and is working on a symphony based on the life of the ancient poet Chu Yuan.

Prior to his visit to the United States, Chen Gang was unfamiliar with western music of the last thirty years, although his knowledge of western music written before 1949 is extensive. His visit helped bring his knowledge up to date. In New York he attended rehearsals and performances and met with American composers. He also traveled to many cities across the country, attending conferences and giving lectures at conservatories and universities. Pleased by the enthusiastic response to his lectures, Chen Gang observed, “Chinese know very little about American music, but Americans know even less about music in China.” Chen’s visit helped many composers and musicians in this country expand their musical knowledge.

From Engineering to “The East is Red”

Mao Yuan, who also visited this country last year, is composer-in residence at the Central Opera Theatre and a teacher at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. He is well known for his works for opera and dance as well as for instrumental and vocal pieces. He was one of several collaborators who composed the score for “The East is Red,” the song and dance extravaganza commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. Mao’s work has been recorded in Hong Kong, Japan, and China, and one of his compositions, “The Dance of the Yao People,” was recently recorded on Phases of the Moon, a CBS release.

Costume designer Li Keyu and husband composer Mao Yuan in front of their home in Beijing
Costume designer Li Keyu and husband composer Mao Yuan in front of their home in Beijing

Born into a musical family in 1926, Mao Yuan initially pursued a career in civil engineering. Shortly after his graduation from Qinghua University in 1950, however, he chose to follow his natural inclinations and joined friends in forming the Central Opera Theatre. In those early days of the People’s Republic, Chinese music schools taught only classical European composers, such as Bach and Beethoven. “Our Soviet teachers were very conservative,” said Mao of the experts the Soviet Union sent to China in the fifties. “They taught nothing modern, not even Stravinsky, Hindemith, or Schoenberg, composers already considered old fashioned in America.” During the Cultural Revolution, when all western culture was banned, Mao Yuan and his entire opera company planted rice for two years. His wife, Li Keyu, was put under house arrest for participating in a production of the ballet “Swan Lake.”

While in America Mao Yuan met with many composers and representatives of music organizations. He gave lecture-demonstrations at Columbia, Yale, the Eastman School of Music, the Chinese Music Society of North America, UCLA, and Wesleyan University. He found Americans’ curiosity about life in China endlessly fascinating. People wondered how he managed to make a living as a composer and were surprised when he told them that in China an officially designated composer receives a monthly salary like any other state worker.

Mao Yuan was also struck by the fact that in the United States composers have the freedom to write whatever they wish. After listening to a sparsely attended avant-garde concert that ended with empty Coke cans crashing to the floor, Mao Yuan observed that although “few people want to listen to this” the composer was free to pursue his particular musical inclinations. In China, he said, composers must write for an audience. Mao Yuan used the story of the ancient composer Yu Baoyu to illustrate his point. Yu Baoyu had only one friend who understood his music. When that friend died, the composer smashed his zither and refused to play again. “What good,” asked Mao Yuan, “is music without an audience?”

Costuming the Dance

“The bare sets and understated costumes highlight the dancers’ technique,” said costume designer Li Keyu after seeing the Alvin Ailey and Alwin Nikolais dance companies in New York last spring. Li Keyu, a 1954 graduate of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, was a member of the first class trained under the new government. Upon graduation from the Central Academy, where she studied with masters Wu Zuoren and Ye Qianyu, Li Keyu taught art at a dance academy and soon found herself designing costumes for school productions. Since then she has designed costumes for both western and Chinese classics, including “Swan Lake,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “The Red Detachment of Women,” and “The East is Red.”

With the advice of New York set designer Ming Cho Lee, the Center arranged a program for Li Keyu that included meetings with costume designers, visits to costume and fabric shops, and dance rehearsals and performances. At the rehearsals and performances Li Keyu’s sketch book was in her lap as she sought with bold charcoal strokes to explore the ways in which costumes can extend a dancer’s movements. She also visited Columbia, Yale, Wesleyan, UCLA, and the Fashion Institute of Technology to present slide shows of her work. In addition, Li and her husband, Mao Yuan, attended the Berkshire Music Festival, the Jacob’s Pillow dance festival, the Lake George Opera Festival, the Chicago and San Francisco operas, and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

Painter-Poet, Dreamers, and Dancers

Ben Stevenson, artistic director of the Houston Ballet, had wanted to choreograph a ballet with a Chinese theme ever since he visited China in 1979 as a member of the first delegation of Americans to travel in China under the auspices of the Center. But, as he told the Houston Post recently, he felt overwhelmed by subjects from the monumental panorama of Chinese history and fearful of reducing aspects of Chinese culture to something as “clumsy” as “a panda pas de deux”.

It was not until last fall that the appropriate subject matter literally fell into Stevenson’s path. When the Houston company performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the spring of 1981 Stevenson met the husband and wife team of Mao Yuan, a composer, and Li Keyu, a costume designer, who were visiting the United States at the Center ‘s invitation. He spoke with them again in Houston several months later. Although all three artists wanted to collaborate, no suitable libretto emerged from their discussions. As Stevenson was accompanying Mao Yuan and Li Keyu to the plane they were about to board for their return to China, a photocopy of a bamboo painting by Zheng Ban Qiao fell out of Li Keyu’s portfolio. Stevenson had found the subject of his ballet.

While Mao Yuan and Li Keyu worked on the music and costumes in China, Stevenson began choreographing. Among the writings of Zheng Ban Qiao, a revered poet painter of the eighteenth century, is the following: “Forty years I paint bamboo, in the day with my brush and at night with my dreams.” With this scenario in mind, Stevenson sought to create a ballet that would “suggest the elusive sense of Chinese folk ideas” through a fusion of Chinese folk movements and those of classical ballet. 

“Zheng Ban Qiao” premiered in March to critical acclaim. Ann Holmes, fine arts editor of the Houston Chronicle, described the piece as one of “surpassing beauty and poetic movement.” Li Cunxin, who originally came to Houston as an exchange student and is now a soloist with the company, danced the role of the painter who dreams of bamboo trees that come to life and of a rendez-vouz with a radiant “moon maiden.” Li Cunxin’s performance was, according to Holmes, “sensitively evocative,” while Janie Parker, the maiden, danced with “intense awareness” and “extraterrestrial winsomeness.”

The score, written entirely for western instruments, nevertheless has “indefinable traces of an ancient Chinese quality,” according to Chen Xieyang. Chen, conductor of the Shanghai Ballet Orchestra and a guest conductor with the Peking and Shanghai symphonies, led the Houston Ballet Orchestra for the premiere. He is in the United States at the invitation of the Center, under a grant from the Asian Cultural Council.

Li Cunxin and Jane Parker In the premiere of "Zheng Ban Qiao"
Li Cunxin and Jane Parker In the premiere of "Zheng Ban Qiao"

Li Keyu’s costuming of the ballet included hand-painted chiffon dresses for the women and pewter hued tights and scarf for the poetpainter. The bamboo trees come-to-life danced with stalks of bamboo. The set, by Matthew C. Jacobs, consisted of transparent panels painted with bamboo in the style of Zheng Ban Qiao. With Toshira Ogawa’s lighting, the effect was that of a grove of bamboo shimmering in the moonlight.

For Ben Stevenson, his ballet about the dream of a bamboo painter is the realization of a personal dream. For the US-China Arts Exchange, the ballet is the fruit of four different exchange programs, including the Center’s first and its most recent. The ballet represents the ideal of cultural exchange – creative collaboration between Chinese and American artists. 

Year’s Sojourn for Conductor

Chen Xieyang, conductor of the Shanghai Ballet Orchestra, arrived in New York last September for a twelve-month stay supported by a fellowship grant from the Asian Cultural Council. Celebrated as one of China’s most talented interpreters of western music, Chen graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory in 1965 and was immediately appointed to his current post at the Shanghai Ballet Orchestra. In 1972 he conducted performances in North Korea and Japan. While on tour in France and Canada in 1977 he conducted the first performances outside China of the revolutionary ballet “White Haired Girl. ” In 1979 and 1980 he appeared as guest conductor of the Shanghai Philharmonic and the Central Philharmonic in Beijing.

Chen Xieyang in his American debut with the Group for Contemporary Music
Chen Xieyang in his American debut with the Group for Contemporary Music

Chen spent the first several months of his stay in New York attending orchestral rehearsals and performances and meeting with visiting conductors. On December 14 he made his conducting debut in the United States with the Group for Contemporary Music at Symphony Space, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He also attended a symposium on Chinese arts sponsored by the University of Virginia and was an observer at the Exxon/Arts Endowment Conductors Symposium in Washington, D.C., led by Maestro Max Rudolph. Seiji Ozawa was Chen’s host when he visited the Boston Symphony for two weeks in January.

In early March, Chen led the Houston Ballet Orchestra for the premiere of Ben Stevenson’s new ballet “Zheng Ban Qiao”. Later that month he visited the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the University of Michigan, and the Detroit Symphony. In April he served as guest conductor of the Radio City Orchestra for a performance of “Encore,” which celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the music hall. This summer Chen will conduct the Brooklyn Philharmonia in concerts of Chinese music to be held at the PepsiCo Summerfare Festival on the campus of SUNY Purchase on July 25 and the American Museum of Natural History on July 28. He will also visit the Berkshire Music Festival in Massachusetts and will conduct at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. In addition, Chen is scheduled to appear with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra in late August and the CCP Philharmonic Orchestra in Manila in mid- September. Before returning to Shanghai in the fall, he will conduct the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra,

American Musicians Change their Tune

The lavish eighteenth-century style mansion at Old Westbury Gardens on Long Island was the setting for one of the two concerts the Center sponsored last year to celebrate the visits of Chen Gang, Mao Yuan, and Chen Xieyang. The program for the Westbury concert focused on the works of Mao Yuan and Chen Gang, with additional pieces by He Luding, Qu Wei, Ding Shande, Wang Jianzhong, Chen Peixun, Qu Xiaosong, and Jiang Zuxin. Playing in this new idiom, violinist Ben Hudson and pianist Joseph Kubera emphasized the influence of folk and ethnic tunes on contemporary Chinese compositions.

Composer Chen Gang and violinist Ben Hudson at the reception following the concert of Chinese music at Old Westbury Gardens
Composer Chen Gang and violinist Ben Hudson at the reception following the concert of Chinese music at Old Westbury Gardens

Chen Xieyang, conductor of the Shanghai Ballet Orchestra, made his American debut with the Group for Contemporary Music in a “Concert of Contemporary Music from China” at Symphony Space in Manhattan last December. The program featured American premieres of works for string and chamber orchestra by Ding Zhinuo, Lin Dehong, Wang Xiling, and Wu Zuqiang. Also included were works for chamber ensembles by Chen Gang, Huang Huwei, and Mao Yuan performed by soloists Ben Hudson, Alek Karis, Harvey Sollberger, and Charles Wuorinen.

Broadcast live over WNYC, the concert was the first to offer an entire program of modern Chinese music performed by a professional American ensemble. According to reports from the conductor and the performers, the concert provided a unique opportunity for creative cooperation in spite of differences in language and culture. Nicolas Roussakis, executive director of the Group for Contemporary Music, was impressed by Chen’s technique, noting that “Maestro Chen’s thorough knowledge of music and his sensitive interpretations made it easy for the musicians to give him their best. “The Chinese Musicians Association of Beijing, the major organization for professional musicians, provided scores and information for the event.

Hong Kong Rendez-Vous

Representatives of mainland China and Taiwan had a rare meeting at the 1981 gathering of the Hong Kong Division of the Asian Composers League. Negotiations for the unprecedented event began in 1979 at the fifth ACL conference in Seoul when composers from Taiwan approached Center director Chou Wen-chung with the proposal for a meeting with their counterparts in the PRC. Chou, who had presented a report on music in the PRC at the conference, conveyed the idea to Lu Ji, chairman of the Chinese Musicians Association, in Beijing and urged other PRC government officials to permit composers from that country to participate. Doming Lam, chairman of ACL’s Hong Kong division, pursued the matter officially.

Chou Wen-chung (center) with Li Huanzhi, composer and vice chairman of the Chinese Musicians Association and leader of the delegation from the PRC, and Hsu Tsang-houei, distinguished composer from Taiwan and head of the Taiwan contingent
Chou Wen-chung (center) with Li Huanzhi, composer and vice chairman of the Chinese Musicians Association and leader of the delegation from the PRC, and Hsu Tsang-houei, distinguished composer from Taiwan and head of the Taiwan contingent

As a result of these official and unofficial efforts, composers from the PRC and Taiwan attended the Asian Composers Conference and Festival/Hong Kong. The special event was organized with the cooperation of the Taiwan division of the ACL and the Chinese Musicians Association.

The ACL, founded in Hong Kong in 1973, seeks to promote musical culture and research in Asian countries and the exchange of ideas and information among Asian composers.

“My Life in China as a Writer”

Under the simple title quoted above, Ding Ling, one of China’s best known modern authors, told her audience at Columbia last winter a story of sharp contrasts and reversals in fortune that are probably unequalled in the life of any contemporary western writer. Visiting the United States under the auspices of the international Writing Program at the University of Iowa, Ding Ling lectured at Columbia at the invitation of the Center and the Writing Division of the School of the Arts. 

Ding Ling, who has published fourteen novels and many short stories despite a 22-year enforced hiatus in her career, was born into a gentry family with a long history of public service. By the age of twelve she had turned public service into activism as she attended political meetings, led demonstrations, and taught elementary mathematics at evening schools for the poor.

With her hair cropped short in defiance of the convention for women in those days. Ding Ling left her native Hunan province and went to Nanjing and Shanghai, where she mixed with students, writers, and anarchists who were typical of Chinese “Bohemians” of the 1920s. Her writings from this period, particularly The Diary of Miss Sophie (1928), reflect Ding Ling’s commitment to revolution as well as the personal tensions this commitment engendered in her. It was also during this period in Shanghai that Ding Ling, who referred to herself as an “emancipated Nora,” discovered western literature and dreamed of visiting western countries some day.

Ding Ling, one of China's most acclaimed authors, speaks to faculty
Ding Ling, one of China's most acclaimed authors, speaks to faculty

Linking her personal fortunes to the political fortunes of her country, Ding Ling joined the Communist Party in 1931 and was a popular and influential writer throughout the revolutionary period. She gained several high posts in the early years of the PRC, including membership on the editorial committees of the two most powerful literary magazines, the Literary Gazette and People’s Literature. An active member of the League of Left Wing Writers, she became editor of one of its magazines, The Big Dipper. As an editor, she urged young writers to forget themselves “by thinking only of the masses. Do not consider yourself a writer,” she said.

“Remember, you are one of the masses. You are speaking for them.”

Ding Ling’s early stories as a communist were critical of the apathy and inertia of party officials and their deadening effect on idealistic young people. She weathered Mao’s criticism of such writing in his Yenan talks and went on to grow in importance. In 1951 she produced one of her best known works, The Sun Shines Over the Sanggan River which demonstrated a successful fusion of individual creative initiative and party doctrine. This novel, which has since been translated into more than ten languages, won the Stalin Prize in 1951 and served as a model for the efforts of other writers.

During the Hundred Flowers Movement (1956-1957) when government policies towards the arts were growing more liberal. Ding Ling continued to emphasize the importance of individual creativity versus Marxist doctrine of art for the masses. However, when the critical spirit of the intellectuals alarmed the Communist Party and resulted in the Rectification Movement, Ding Ling was among those writers singled out and criticized for promulgating “rightist” literature. In 1958 she was expelled from the Writers Union and the Communist Party.

Ding Ling and her husband Chen Ming were sent to a remote area in Heilongjiang for “reform through labor.” This period of punishment lasted for twenty-two years, five of which were spent in solitary confinement. Upon her “rehabilitation” in 1978 Ding Ling lost no time in beginning a sequel to her 1951 masterpiece. The new work, During a Bitter Cold Day, was published early this year.

Despite the harsh treatment she endured in her native land. Ding Ling told her listeners at Columbia that she was thankful for the time in which she lived, calling it “a rich time, full of the germs of revolution.” She also said that her long awaited trip to the west had proved to be a revealing one. Before coming to the United States, explained Ding Ling, she had no context in which to understand abstract art. But after seeing the towering skyscrapers in New York and other American cities she could understand the previously inaccessible form.

Of Americans Ding Ling said, “I feel a certain affinity with them. They are very honest people.” Before returning to China, Ding Ling and Chen Ming traveled from New York to Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., Michigan, California, and Canada.


Thank You for Supporting the Center

The Center for U.S.-China Arts Exchange is a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization which relies on contributions from foundations, corporations and individuals to carry out its programs. Charitable donations to the Center are tax deductible.

The Center wishes to express appreciation for gifts and grants received from the following organizations in 1981:

  • Asian Cultural Council
  • Broadcast Music, Inc.
  • The Ford Foundation
  • The Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation
  • The Henry Luce Foundation
  • Mr. and Mrs. George D. O’Neill
  • The Rockefeller Brothers Fund
  • The United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, China Program


The Center wishes to thank the following organizations and individuals for their contributions to the Center’s exchange programs during 1981:

  • Aspen Music Festival
  • American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers
  • Boston Symphony Orchestra
  • Brooklyn Philharmonia
  • Chicago Symphony Orchestra
  • Chinese Culture Foundation
  • Civic Orchestra of Chicago
  • Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) 
  • Detroit Symphony Orchestra
  • Group for Contemporary Music
  • Houston Ballet
  • International Center of Photography
  • Japan Airlines
  • Lady Lynne
  • Old Westbury Gardens
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of Michigan, School of Music
  • University of Northern Illinois

For contributed materials, services, and hospitality that enriched the Center’s programs in 1981:

  • Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
  • Amberson Enterprises
  • American Ballet Theatre
  • ABC Leisure Magazines
  • American College Theatre Festival
  • American Council for the Arts
  • American Music Center
  • American Society of Cinematographers
  • Asia Society, Performing Arts Program
  • Vincent Bach International
  • Bellerophon Books
  • Belmont Music Publishers
  • Belwin Mills Publishing Corporation
  • Berandol Music, Ltd.
  • Berkshire Music Center
  • Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.
  • R. R. Bowker Co.
  • Brooklyn Academy of Music
  • Capezio Ballet Makers
  • Carnegie Hall Corporation
  • Center for Chinese Studies, University of
  • California at Berkeley
  • Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
  • Chicago Musical College, Roosevelt University
  • Chinese-American Arts Council
  • Chinese Culture Foundation
  • Chinese Music Society of North America
  • Cineaste
  • Cinefantastique
  • The Cloisters
  • College Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati
  • Columbia Records/CBS Masterworks
  • Composers Recordings, Inc.
  • Crown Publishers
  • Dance Magazine Annual
  • Danskin, Inc.
  • Dover Publications
  • Drama Books Specialists
  • Drama Review
  • Elsevier-Dutton Publishing Co., Inc.
  • Eastman School of Music
  • Ensemble Publications
  • European-American Music Distributors
  • Exxon/Affiliate Artists
  • Farrar, Straus & Ciroux, Inc.
  • Film Comment
  • Film Quarterly
  • Films in Review
  • Carl Fischer, Inc.
  • General Music Publishing Co., Inc.
  • Greenwich Philharmonia
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
  • Harper & Row
  • Harvard University Press
  • Holt, Rinehart & Winston
  • International Harp Corporation
  • International Theatre Institute
  • International Writing Program, University of Iowa
  • Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
  • Joffrey Ballet
  • Juilliard School of Music
  • Juilliard String Quartet
  • Kendor Music Company
  • Lake George Opera Festival
  • League of Professional Theatre Training Programs
  • Robert King Music
  • Little, Brown & Company
  • Longman, Inc.
  • MacHayden Theatre
  • Macmillan, Inc.
  • Magna-Music Baton, Inc.
  • Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance
  • MIT Chinese Students Club
  • Maxell Corporation
  • Mentor Music
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Metropolitan Opera
  • Millimeter
  • National Council for International Visitors in Albany
  • National Orchestral Association
  • New American Library
  • New World Records
  • New York City Ballet
  • New York City Ballet Guild
  • New York City Opera
  • New York Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Nikolais/Louis School of Dance
  • Northern Illinois University
  • W. W. Norton & Co.
  • Office of Folklife Programs, Smithsonian Institution
  • 92nd St. Y
  • Novello Publications
  • Opera Ensemble of New York
  • Oxford University Press
  • Paramount Pictures Corporation
  • Peabody Conservatory of Music
  • C. F. Peters
  • Theodore Presser Company
  • Quarterly Review of Film Studies
  • Radio City Music Hall
  • Random House, Inc.-Vintage Books
  • St. Martin’s Press
  • G. Schirmer, Inc.
  • School of American Ballet
  • Shubert Organization
  • Sichuan Pavilion
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Speculum Musicae
  • Steinway & Sons
  • Sto • Art Publishers
  • Theatre Arts Books
  • Theatre Communications Group
  • Tiffen Manufacturing
  • Twyla Tharp Dance Foundation
  • Universe Books
  • UCLA-China Exchange Program
  • University of California Press
  • University of Virginia
  • U.S.-China People’s Friendship Association, Cincinnati and New Orleans
  • Warner Brothers Music
  • Watson-Guptill Publications
  • Western International Music
  • James T. White & Company
  • Whitney Museum of American Art
  • Wide Angle
  • Wimbledon Music Company
  • Woerner -Bobrick Association
  • Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts
  • Y Chamber Symphony


The Center would like to express special thanks to the following individuals for their continued support and assistance: 

Claus Adam, Joan Bingham, Mr. and Mrs. Warren Benfield, Patton Campbell, Mrs. William Hodding Carter III, Yi-an Chang, Betsy and Ming Cho Lee, Chandler Cowles, Han Kuohuang, David Haugland, Ernest Heller, Ben Hudson, Kenneth Jean, Margaret Jory, Florence Keller, Meg Lavigne, Tham Mengkong, Liang Mingyue, Robert and Ellie Mok, Seiji Ozawa, Maurice Peress, Gordon Peters, Mrs. Howard Phipps, Jr., Doren Slade, Mary Lou Speaker, Ben Stevenson, Mrs. Robert Tangeman, Charles Wu, and Dr. and Mrs. Clyde Wu.

  • Chou Wen-chung, Director
  • Michelle Vosper, Program Coordinator 
  • Miles Kessler, Administrative Assistant
  • The Center for US-China Arts Exchange
  • Columbia University

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