Butler concert replays Chinese history

Mao Zedong is known for many things, but an appreciation for non-proletarian art is not one of them.

“There is, in fact, no such thing as art for art’s sake, art that stands above all classes, art that is detached from or independent of politics,” he said in 1964.

On Oct. 2, at least 100 Chinese-Americans will disagree with Chairman Mao  as part of a musical event.

“Ask the Sky and the Earth: A Cantata for the Sent-Down Youth” will have its Midwest premiere Sunday at Clowes Memorial Hall. The concert will feature the Butler Wind Ensemble, under the direction of Robert Grechesky.

“Very little art came out under Mao’s regime,” Grechesky said. “China’s cultural revolution changed multiple generations of Chinese. It’s kind of like what Vietnam did to us. It changed their generation like the ‘60s changed mine.”

In 1966 as a part of China’s cultural revolution, Mao made a call to more than 20 million Chinese youth to move from their homes in an effort to modernize China. The brutal event is the subject of Sunday’s performance.

The cantata is an eight-movement work by composer and businessman Dong Ling-Huo. The piece originally premiered at Yale University and was performed later at Carnegie Hall.

Butler’s global and historical studies department is flying Wei Su, the work’s librettist,in from Yale to speak before the concert. Grechesky said he also hopes that the mayor of Indianapolis will be in attendance.

“It’s a terrific cross-cultural event,” Grechesky said.

Four Chinese choirs will join the Wind Ensemble on the Clowes stage. The choristers are coming from across the country to participate, an expense borne by each individual singer­­—none of whom are professionals.

The Butler Wind Ensemble will be just the third ensemble to perform the work.

Grechesky said a Chinese woman wanted us to perform it so much that she marched in and dropped past concert programs on my desk.

“You can just hear the passion in the music,” Grechesky said.

“It’s Western music with Chinese emotion. The arts can really bring cultures together.”

Brianna Nielson, a junior string bass performance major, visited China this summer.

“I actually really like the piece,” she said. “I see a strong correlation between the music and the Chinese landscape. One movement really reminds me of mountains and water, but I guess I have to identify it with my own experiences in China. It’s a really beautiful place.”

The concert begins at 3 p.m. with Wu Sei’s pre-concert talk beginning at 2 p.m. Admission is free, but a ticket is required and available at the Clowes box office.


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