Season 1, Episode 4
Moments in time
Gao Ping: Bitter Cold Night
A composer’s response to critical moments in time: The moments when time pivots and history changes course. Charlotte Wilson & Alpha Maiava host this series about the music of Aotearoa New Zealand that follows moments in our history that have had an impact on us and changed or altered who we are.
Gao “I don’t think I’ve ever encountered this in my life before, writing something like this. It was so direct. Even though I didn’t know him personally, I was living in the same situation, and I could feel how he must have felt, the whole business of him being brave, and trying to tell the truth which was a hard thing to do at that time and in that place. And then, being sick and dying, which I could only imagine. He called it the dust: finally, the dust has come down to the ground. I am diagnosed, he said.”
It’s February 2020. The beginning of the coronavirus pandemic worldwide.
China has been in lockdown since January. The doctor who blew the whistle on the pandemic, Dr Li Wenliang, has been denounced by the authorities and forced to sign a retraction: rumours are swirling about what this virus actually is and what on earth is going on; everyone is frightened, and everyone is glued to the doctor’s blog which bravely chronicles his descent into illness. He is dying. And it is on the day of his death, February 6, that Gao Ping gets a message from one of his friends that says, “Well, as a composer, as a musician, don’t you have anything to say about our current time?”
Dr Li Wenliang died that night. The next morning China woke up to huge Chinese characters carved into the snow on a riverbank: Farewell Dr Li Wenliang. Gao Ping was immediately inspired to write Bitter Cold Night, finishing it very quickly, an experience he says was unlike any in his life before. In this programme, he speaks about what lockdown was like in the interior of China close to the epicentre, as one of the first to go into lockdown in the world. He speaks of the tragedy and martyring of Dr Li Wenliang, later named a National Martyr by the government; he speaks about what it is like to be a musician working under the auspices of China’s Communist regime; and he speaks about his piece, Bitter Cold Night, and the struggle of searching for words.
Host: Charlotte Wilson
Guests: Gao Ping
Links & Resources
This episode was brought to you by SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music.
- Executive Producer: Diana Marsh
- Producer: Charlotte Wilson
- Sound Engineer: Phil Brownlee
Moments in time
A composer’s response to critical moments in time: The moments when time pivots and history changes course. Tau’ili’ili Alpha Maiava & Charlotte Wilson host this series about the music of Aotearoa New Zealand that follows moments in our history that have had an impact on us and changed or altered who we are.
Charlotte Wilson is a radio presenter and producer who began her career with Radio NZ, and spent a number of years as a presenter for RNZ Concert, including the arts interview show ‘Upbeat’ and the contemporary music show ‘Sound Lounge’. She has also worked as an announcer for BBC Radio 3 and is currently one of the hosts for KBAQ in the USA.
Gao Ping is considered a leading member of the “sixth generation” of Chinese composers after the “fifth generation” of composers such as Tan Dun and Qu Xiaosong. Also a highly acclaimed pianist, his music is performed all over the world and he is the recipient of a number of prizes including the the 2010 CANZ Award in New Zealand, where he taught composition at the universities of Canterbury and Te Koki NZ School of Music for eight years. He is now back in his home town of Cheng Du in China, and teaches as Professor and Guest Professor of Composition at the Conservatory of Music at Capital Normal University, and China Conservatory in Beijing.