“Reach out, bring them in.” – Gao Hong

The Bach Society of Minnesota pays tribute to Chinese pipa player, composer, and professor of music Gao Hong for International Women’s Day, March 8, 2022 - #BreakTheBias.

International Women’s Day calls on us to recognize the contributions and achievements of women, to elevate their voice. BSM aims to do that by thanking Gao Hong for her efforts in breaking biases on the world stage and in the classroom.

Gao Hong’s collaborative spirit has led her in many directions that have otherwise gone unexplored. She has brought the traditional elements of Chinese pipa music to the genres of jazz, blues, baroque, and most recently Arabic; in a collaboration with Issam Rafea, a master of the oud (Arabic lute.)

Gao Hong lives by the quote “Reach out, bring them in” and she did just that with BSM Concert Mistress and violinist Margaret Humphrey and the Belladonna Baroque Quartet. Humphrey recalls the collaboration from 2005, “In Belladonna Baroque Quartet’s collaboration with Gao Hong, I’m reminded of a piece we recorded on our album “Gathering”, that featured a William Byrd piece entitled The Queen’s Alman. It was a folk tune known throughout Europe, and particularly in Italy under the title “la Monica”, where the words associated with the title describe the lament of a young girl who begs her mother not to force her to become a nun. As women performing in the modern age, we certainly have not taken for granted the opportunity to choose our own path, yet we also recognize the fragile nature of what “choice” means, and how easily it could crumble, representing a time more associated with the period of music we love to play together.”

After learning about the collaboration between Gao Hong and Humphrey, BSM Executive Director and pianist Yunyue Liu reached out to Gao Hong which led to the collaborative performance Bach and the Forbidden City in 2018. BSM and Gao Hong blended the traditional elements of Bach and baroque with that of Chinese pipa music, breathing new life into music that is centuries old. Yunyue Liu recalls, “Gao Hong is not only an extraordinary performer, composer, and educator, but also fun to be around. I cherish the collaboration back in 2018 with her and I was grateful for the opportunity to blend my Chinese roots with what BSM usually brings to the table.”

Gao Hong’s love of learning and exploring naturally led her to the world of academia. Gao Hong serves as the director of the Chinese Music Ensemble and senior lecturer on Chinese musical instruments at Carleton College in Northfield, MN. In 2001 when she began her teaching career there were only 3 Chinese students in the entire campus population, but after her album release Speaking in Tongues – First Word—a collaboration between Ghanaian, Mexican, Chinese, and American musicians, there became an increased interest and demand in Chinese instruments. In 2008 Carleton College became the first university to allow Chinese instruments to be the students main instrument in pursuit of their Music major or minor. By 2017 one of her students, Gus Holley won the gold medal in Beijing at the Liaoyuan Cup Pipa International Competition, making history as the first Caucasian to ever win the award.

Gao Hong has won countless awards and accolades for her work in music, but she is not one to rest on her laurels. To celebrate her 50th year of music-making she is raising the bar once again in a groundbreaking collaboration with local Minnesota rapper Dessa. Her upcoming performance The Music of Gao Hong: A Celebration of 50 Years of Making Music With Friends features many collaborations, but Gao Hong will make history once again on the Ordway stage in the first ever collaboration of Chinese pipa music and rap.

About The Bach Society of Minnesota

The Bach Society of Minnesota was founded in 1932 and the original Minnesota Bach Festival dates back to 1940. Celebrating 90 years of music-making we pay tribute to music directors, former and present: Donald Ferguson, David LaBerge, Henry Charles Smith, Paul E. Oakley, Roderick Phipps-Kettlewell, Myles Hernandez, Thomas Lancaster, Paul Boehnke, and Matthias Maute. The mission of the Bach Society of Minnesota is to build a diverse community of music lovers who perform, promote, and appreciate the music of J.S. Bach and those he inspired.