Bells and moonlight, the water spring and fish, and fiery tango and the funeral – these are the abstract themes that Chinese-Australian pianist Yiyun Gu has used as the springboard for her upcoming recital East Meets West. Here the rising star gives Limelight a taste of what’s to come.

Yiyun Gu. Photo supplied

What gave you the idea for your concert East Meets West?

I want to visualise the music, and create some images in the audience’s head when they are listening to my playing, like looking at two paintings, one from the East and one from the West. Water spring, funeral, bells, moonlight, fish, and tango dance are six themes I have selected which inspired the composers on my program. It is for the audience to turn the music into images, and find the connection and difference between two works composed not only far away in time, but also far away in distance.

Can you tell us a little bit about the contemporary Chinese composers you’ve included?

Tan Dun is one of the most important contemporary Chinese composers. Mo Fan has written a wide range of compositions including some theatre works, although they are not familiar to our audience here. Gao Ping is representative of the new generation of Chinese composers. He performed in Port Fairy Spring Music Festival a few years ago. All of them have written a wide range of styles of music. In my program East Meets West, the selections of Tan Dun and Mo Fan’s music are more picture-like, and can easily be related to some traditional Chinese brush and ink paintings, While Gao Ping’s Dance Fury—Homage to Astor Piazzolla feels totally exotic to a Chinese audience.

What should audiences expect? 

I hope that they can find both differences and similarities between the eastern and western compositions. For example, Mo Fan’s Dreaming of the Tiger Spring has a similar texture to Liszt’s Beside a Spring – both of these composers wanted to describe the running of water. However, the structure and harmony they used for their composition is totally different, which the audience can hear immediately from the music.

You’ve performed this program before. How do you expect it will be different this time round? 

I played this program in Port Fairy Spring Music Festival and Healesville last year. The salon in the Melbourne Recital Centre is a very intimate venue, where I can generate a good connection with the audience. It has great acoustics too. I am really looking forward to it.

What do you enjoy about playing in a salon atmosphere?

I love being closer to the audience, and being able to have a greater connection with them.

Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to revisiting in the program?

I guess I am looking forward to presenting the recital as a whole program, and see it as an entire artwork. Each group has its own character. I think what I am really excited about is introducing Chinese composition to the Western audiences, by presenting them in pairs, from the known to the unknown.

Do you have anything similar planned for the future?

Yes, I actually have another interesting program after East Meets West. I will keep exploring music from contrasting backgrounds, with some level of connection, but huge differences at the same time.

East Meets West is on at Melbourne Recital Centre on March 26