Delaware is truly lucky to be home to a musician as talented and versatile as Xiang Gao, creator and director of 6ixwire Project. Best known as a brilliant violinist, this Chinese born artist has set out on a mission to bring together east and west, old and new, the familiar and unfamiliar, through his musical and dramatic endeavors. As part of the Master Players Concert Series, the University of Delaware presents Erhu and Violin and The Butterfly Lovers.
The Butterfly Lovers is a collaborative effort between Gao and playwright/actor/director Danny Peak. Peak wrote the powerful narration, based on a centuries old Chinese folk tale. Gao arranged the music—a concerto written by Chen Gang—for violin, erhu and piano. With beautiful images by Vincent D’Amico projected behind the stage, the performance draws the audience in on a personal and emotional level: love, betrayal and loss are ideas everyone can relate to.
To see Cathy Y. Yang play the erhu, a Chinese two-stringed violin, is to witness pure joy. Each sound that comes from the instrument is perfectly executed and seems to emanate from her soul. The ensemble playing between Yang and Gao is astounding; the two not only echo each other’s phrases, but also the timbre of the other’s instrument. The folksy themes—at times joyful, playful, and filled with longing—are those of the ill-fated lovers, Shanbo and Yingtai.
Stephanie Shade reads an earnest and strong-willed Yingtai, a brilliant young woman who disguises herself as a boy so she might have the opportunity to study. Peak is the young Shanbo, who is completely taken with his lover’s beauty and intelligence. Their performance intertwines perfectly with the music and the visual elements. Also delightful is Rita Sloan, an award-winning pianist and faculty member of the University of Maryland School of Music.
The second half of the program includes Pablo de Sarasate’s Themes from Carmen, Fantasy Op. 25, scored for violin, erhu and piano. Another expert arrangement by Gao, the piece showcases the players’ virtuosity. The last portion of the evening features a jam session with fabulous amateur musicians. Their rendition of Van Morrison’s Moondance rocked the hall. Gao spoke about music and its purpose in the world, reminding us how he enjoys working with varied genres and performers. He also gave us a brief bit of music history, discussing the shared Persian roots of violin and erhu. Here, Gao has successfully married the instruments and styles to expand our musical and cultural horizons.