Greeley’s celebration of new music is marking its 15th anniversary at the University of Northern Colorado

· Mar. 9, 2023, 4:00 am
OPEN SPACE PROVIDED gao hongOPEN SPACE PROVIDED gao hongCourtesy University of Northern Colorado
Gao Hong poses with a Pipa, a stringed Chinese instrument with about 2,000 years of history.

The Open Space Festival of New Music at Greeley’s University of Northern Colorado holds true to its namesake. The annual event features guest composers and newly written music in any genre.

“I call it Open Space, not just because we're in the open ranges of Northern Colorado, but also because the idea is that almost anything within the category of what you might call new music goes,” said Paul Elwood, an associate professor of music composition at UNC and the director of the fest.

This year’s guest composer is Chen Yi, with guest artist acclaimed pipa player and composer Gao Hong

Professor Chen Yi's innovative fusion of Chinese and Western styles defies musical boundaries. 

“I would bring in elements, for example, of the folk song … which is hidden in the beginning of the piece,” Chen Yi said. “The piece is very emotional for me and personal for me as well, because it reminds us [of] the history of World War II. Also it calls for future peace.”

Gao Hong is a virtuoso on the pipa, a stringed Chinese instrument with about 2,000 years of history.

“I always tell people, it's kind of … between banjo, mandolin, guitar. [They] all come by together, but …  you [it] hold upright, then you use 10 fingers.” Gao Hong said. “It is absolutely one of the most difficult instruments.”

OPEN SPACE PROVIDED Chen YiCourtesy University of Northern Colorado
Composer Chen Yi wrote a new piece of music for this year's Open Space Festival of New Music at the University of Northern Colorado.

Gao Hong says the pipa is almost a Chinese percussion band unto itself that allows the player to simulate flowing water or even imitate people talking. 

Chen Yi titled her work "Ning," after one of the names for Nanking — China’s  former capital — during World War II. Peace and quiet are other meanings of the word. “And so I took this character as the title with the double meaning,” Chen said. She used the pipa because it is not a traditional part of western music. 

The community can attend three festival rehearsals free of charge. Professor Elwood says that  is a significant step toward involving everyone. 

“This is the kind of thing you don't see all that often, no matter where you live in the United States, or in any other country for that matter,” Elwood said.  “It's really an extraordinary opportunity for the community to come out, meet these artists, hear their music, be exposed to something that maybe they're not exposed to on a daily basis. And, it's that outreach that is actually very important to me.” 

The Herstory Choirs Concert featuring select works by Chen Yi will be performed March 8 at 7:30 p.m. at UNC’s Campus Commons Performance Hall. The Spring Dreams Concert featuring music by Chen Yi and guest virtuoso pipa player Gao Hong is March 9 at 7:30 p.m., also at the Campus Commons Performance Hall.

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