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Chinese-American composer shares his music in NE China

Updated : 2019-05-31

By ( chinadaily.com.cn )

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Huang Xiaofeng’s concert, titled A Colorful Musical Journey, is held in Seattle in April 2013. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Chinese-American composer Huang Xiaofeng recently concluded his journey to Harbin, capital of China’s northernmost province, on May 27.

During his four-day trip, 62-year-old Huang listened to a performance of his masterpiece Joy and Prosper by local musicians, enjoyed local errenzhuan folk music in Fangzheng county, and got a taste of Russian culture at Volga Manor.

Huang Xiaofeng, also known as Austin Huang, had a legendary career as a civil engineer for most of his adult life and started learning symphonic composition at the age of 48. He is a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a diplomate of Academy of Geo-Professionals, and an honorary affiliate professor of music at Western Washington University.

Huang has managed to preserve Chinese folk music (particularly from northern China) through classical art. He has composed more than 20 pieces including chamber music, symphonies, concerti, and vocal works such as coloratura sopranos, tenor solos, with choir.

Huang was born in a village in Huadian county in Northeast China's Jilin province in June 1957. He had no chances in touch with symphonic music until he watched an opera performance of The Red Lantern when he was 10-years-old, which ignited his passion for music. A year later, he owned his first erhu, a two-stringed bowed instrument.

In 1978, Huang’s life was changed as he began his studies at the China University of Mining and Technology. He later obtained master’s and doctoral degrees in civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and started living in the United States in 1984. He was too busy on academic works to pay attention to music during his college days.

It wasn’t until 2005 that Huang decided to begin learning composition. That’s when he met his mentor, Roger Briggs, a music professor at Western Washington University.

After two years of study, Briggs spoke highly of his Chinese student but told him to compose his own piece to prove himself.

“I thought Dvorak had created the most famous Cello Concerto, but the melody of The Red Detachment of Women gives it a run for its money,” Hung recalled.

Over the next nine months, he devoted himself to composing and finally presented the world with China Girl, adapted from The Red Detachment of Women, and made a name for himself in 2013 after holding a concert in Seattle. Americans were surprised that the piece portrayed Chinese women as brave and confident rather than obedient and subdued.

Huang’s pieces later represented China at the Bellevue Youth Symphony's World Music Series: World Master Works Concert.

Though far from his motherland, Huang still missed his hometown. In 2010, he created the overture Joy and Prosper, which combined errenzhuan, a song-and-dance duet popular in Northeast China and known for its popular appeal, and modern symphony. It also used instruments that are rarely seen in Western orchestras, like suona, a double-reed horn."

After his successes, Huang wanted to share his journey with other music enthusiasts.

He later was introduced to China by China Symphonic Development Foundation in a concert at the Beijing Concert Hall on Jan 21, 2016 to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year. The concert featured eight Chinese-style symphonies he wrote, including Motherland and My Dear, Dear Mama, which made many overseas Chinese long for their motherland. At the age of 58, Huang finally presented his work to his fellow countrymen.

Early in December 2017, Huang made his first trip to Harbin and visited the Harbin Conservatory of Music, where he gave a speech on the relationship between classical and modern music.

“The trip has given me a better understanding of the city, which has a profound musical and cultural background,” said Huang. “It is the birthplace of China’s first symphony orchestra and the Harbin Summer Music Concert has been held for more than 30 years. I’m overjoyed that the people living here love music and the local government provides a lot of support for musical and cultural causes.”

When Joy and Prosper was performed by the Harbin Symphony Orchestra, Huang was so moved that his heart nearly burst at the seams. “This piece of music has been played many times, but for me, this has been the most emotional performance. Only native residents in Northeastern China can understand the true meaning of errenzhuan and provide the symphony with the soul it needs.”

Huang also hoped to tour Harbin again before his departure, hoping to gain more creative inspiration and share his work with the people of Harbin once more.

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