Through a labored series of connections and some haphazard scheduling, I recently met with a Chinese symphonic composer, Wang Xilin. Admittedly, I hadn’t done my research until the day of meeting him, and when I did…well, go read his wikipedia page yourself. That plus a few Youtube searches, and I was pretty much floored I’d stumbled upon the opportunity to meet this guy, China’s national treasure.
While his body of work is impressive and very enviable, I was most struck by the story of his life. For fourteen years he went through absolute hell (really, read the bio), enough that even before meeting him, I’d heard rumors that he was well…crazy, you know, stereotypical-composer-crazy. It’s hard to imagine that through all those years of agony (something my first violin teacher, Bingsun Yang, had to suffer through as well), all he had to cling to was his love for music. You can hear the pain of his experiences too in his music, and you can hear a distinct lack of it in mine.
This is where he lives. Mr. Wang apologized profusely for the apartment, but I couldn’t help being so amazed and impressed that someone this famous, successful, and rich would still choose to live here. Then again, when you think about what came before in his life, it’s easy to see why this would seem totally sufficient.
Despite the rumors of him being crazy - and it still might be true, what can you tell from only talking to someone for two hours? - my first impression of him was a peculiar one: he really reminds me of Randy Newman! They’re both roughly the same age, and it was really quite striking how similar their movements, facial expressions, and even voices were!
I learned from Mr. Wang that, for many years, he used to work where I now work, the Beijing Dance Drama and Opera. They still pay him his retirement checks. Unfortunately, him and my boss and mentor, Mr. Liao, see differently about the artistic direction of this troupe.
After a two hour conversation that covered my background, his background, listening to each other’s music, and geeking out (as best I could in Chinese) about Prokofiev, Bartok, Shostakovich, Beethoven, Wagner, Brahms, John Corigliano, George Crumb, John Adams, Tan Dun, John Williams, and China’s John Williams - Zhao Jiping, Mr. Wang suggested that I devote a large chunk of my time to do score study.
He thinks I should push my technique in the contemporary classical direction, and I see why - his technique is superb. The technical demands of contemporary classical music is many many times higher than that of film music, so why not build up your technique so that when you write film music, it’s peanuts? The other end of the spectrum though is that what good is the best technique in the world if you’re not working and building your career?
In the end, Mr. Wang wants to send me the score to a movement of a suite he recently completed. I heard it today - it’s quite beautiful, and I’m to do an analysis of it with whatever free time I have, then get back to him so he can ostensibly give me a lesson. Seems flexible enough, and more importantly, useful. We’ll see if this becomes a pattern. If so, back to school it is.