Robin Wang | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Robin Wang 

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Robin Wang--never mind the anglicization of his given name, Luo-bin--is one of China's premier ethnomusicologists and folk performers. Born in Beijing in 1913, he studied Western music with German and Russian professors in college. But in 1937 he journeyed to China's Muslim-dominated northwestern provinces and became so taken with the tangy, nonpentatonic music there that he uprooted himself and settled in Xinjiang, the vast central Asian province that borders both Kazakhstan and Tibet. Many of the more than a thousand songs he's collected and rearranged since then reflect the mixed ethnic heritage of the Silk Road: Uighur, Mongolian, Xiao, even Slavic. After he was jailed twice by the communist regime for political reasons he started publishing his discoveries--notated in both Western and Chinese styles--under a pseudonym for fear of further persecution. Some of the songs have become wildly popular; they've even been appropriated by pop idols in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Only in the last few years has Wang allowed his identity to be revealed; now he's revered as "the father of the Chinese folk song." Included in this recital--Wang's first formal appearance in North America--are such famous ditties as "The Girls in the City of Ta-ban" and "Far, Far Away." All have piano, instrumental, or chamber-orchestra accompaniments written by Chinese emigre composers Fengshi Yang and Wang Cheyo. The vocalists include sopranos Theresa Chang and Mingzhen Lin, veteran stars of the Shanghai Opera House, and Chicagoan Carol Loverde, who, I understand, learned her soprano solo phonetically. Sunday, 3 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 5706 S. University; 708-357-6714 or 708-968-0608.

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