updated 13 October 2016

Guo Wenjing

Chinese composer born 1 February 1956 in Chongqing (Sichuan).

Guo Wenjing was born on 1 February 1956, in Chongqing, Sichuan Province, in the south-west of China, where his parents worked at the local hospital. His family originated from a poor, rural setting in northern China. However, as members of the Chinese Communist Party, Guo’s parents escaped poverty after the victory of the People’s Liberation Army, settling in the south and establishing a new life for themselves. During the cultural revolution, when Chongqing, like other cities in China, saw frequent clashes and violence in the streets, Guo’s parents bought their 12-year old son a violin, with the hope of sheltering him from the volatile political situation. In this way, the cultural revolution gave rise to opportunities for Guo to establish a career as a musician.

In 1971, Guo became a member — first as a percussionist and later as a violinist — of a local song and dance group. One of the older members of this group became Guo’s violin teacher. The modestly-sized ensemble, comprising exclusively Western instruments, performed “model” operas (works of political propaganda comprising an unusual blend of Chinese opera and music inspired by the soundtracks of Hollywood films). The ensemble played from scores written in Western notation. Guo remained with the group for seven years, before leaving in the mid-1970s in order to focus on composition. His first compositions were works of “revolutionary” music, and were performed by the ensemble which he had recently left. Despite the limited abilities of the members, these experiences allowed Guo to refine his orchestration skills. Thanks to his musician friends, Guo was able to familiarise himself with Western classical music, secretly exchanging and listening to records which were forbidden in China at the time.

In 1977, shortly after the death of Mao Zedong, universities and schools re-opened. Western music gradually came once again to be studied in conservatories and performed in concert halls. In 1978, Guo was accepted at the Beijing Conservatory, where he, along with Tan Dun, Xiao-Song Qu, and Chen Qigang, studied composition with Li Yinghai and Su Xia. However, in 1983, after having married a fellow student at the conservatory without obtaining proper authorisation, Gui was obliged to return to Chongqing. Over the next seven years, he composed a number of scores for cinema and television productions. In 1990, he returned to Beijing as a professor of composition at the conservatory.

His student works for orchestra and chambre ensemble are marked by the rhythmic style of Bartók and the dark atmospheres of Shostakovich. His first success abroad came in the form of Suspended Ancient Coffins on the Cliffs in Sichuan (1983) for orchestra, premiered in Berkeley, California, a work that was heavily influenced by Béla Bartók and Krzysztof Penderecki. Other works from this time, such as Concerto for Violin (1986-1987) and the cantata Shu Dao Nan (1987), betray the persistent influence of Dimitri Shostakovich. International festivals dedicated to Chinese contemporary music helped Guo to establish his name abroad, e.g., in Hong Kong (1986) and Edinburgh (1987), and foreign ensembles began to programme his works.

Guo gradually came to abandon the effusive, romantic style of his early works in favour of a sophisticated style drawing upon elements from Chinese popular music. She Huo (1991), composed upon his return to Beijing and the first in a series of works commissioned by the Nieuw Ensemble in Amsterdam, makes heavy use of Chinese percussion instruments to create the atmosphere of a rural celebration. This was followed by Wolf Cub Village, a dark and powerful chambre opera that was premiered at the Holland Festival in 1994. This free adapation of A Madman’s Diary (Kuangren riji) by Lu Xun, for which Zeng Li created the libretto, has been performed in numerous festivals in Europe and Asia, and cemented Guo’s reputation as one of the most promising and innovative Chinese composers. His second opera, Night Banquet (Ye yan, 1998), a commission of the Almeida Theatre in London and the Hong Kong Arts Festival, has also been performed widely. In these two operas and in subsequent works, Guo focuses on key themes in Chinese folklore, including ghosts, sorcery, and other fantastic, mysterious events. His music is widely performed in international festivals, such as the Festival d’automne in Paris, Holland Festival, and others, from Beijing to Warsaw, and from Perth to New York. He has composed works for, among others, the Kronos Quartet, Arditti Quartet, Ensemble Modern, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and the major orchestras in China.

In 1966, his first visit to the United States roused considerable interest. He spent several months in New York and taught at various universities throughout the USA. Despite numerous other sojourns abroad, Guo, in contrast to many of his colleagues, never aspired to abandon his home country and firmly establish a career in the West. He still lives and works in China, and in 2001, was named Co-director of the composition department of the Beijing Conservatory.

Guo has composed several concertos for Chinese instruments and works for Chinese percussion instruments, including Drama (1995) and Parade (2004). He also continues to explore theatrical music in the form of operas drawing upon the musical theatre traditions of Sichuan (e.g., Fenyiting, (2004) and Si Fan/The Inner Landscape (2016)) and Beijing (e.g., his large-scale trilogy on Chinese heroines comprising Mu Guiying (2003), Hua Mulan (2004), and Liang Hongyu (2008)). Premiered in Beijing, the latter three works were toured in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia, and later performed at the Holland Festival in 2008. In contrast, his operas Poet Li Bai (2007) and Luotuo Xiangzi [The Rickshaw], after Lao She (2014), combine the influences of Chinese music with romantic Western music, sometimes evocative of Puccini. This style characterises other works, including the orchestral ballet, Peony Pavilion (2008), which received a lukewarm critical reception upon its premiere in New York in 2015. Guo maintains that he composes music which is in line with the tastes of Chinese, and more broadly, Asian audiences.

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2016

By Frank Kouwenhoven

The music of Guo Wenjing is a sophisticated blend of influences from Western classical music (notably Shostakovich, Bartók and Penderecki, but also Puccini) and Chinese traditional sounds, especially idioms and expressive techniques borrowed from Sichuan and Peking opera. With currently eight operas and a considerable number of smaller vocal works to his name, Guo Wenjing is primarily recognized as a musical dramatist, an artist who excells at writing for voices, but who is also particularly known for his dramatic and imaginative use of Chinese percussion. One of his first essays in the realm of writing for percussion alone is aptly called Drama (1995). And gongs, drums and cymbals play a prominent role in many of his works, as they do in traditional Chinese opera, which has become an increasingly important influence on Guo’s musical style.
The mood of many of Guo’s compositions is dark, wild, and mysterious, and saturated with the brooding and eerie atmosphere of his native town Chongqing in southern China. His orchestral and theatre pieces deal with man-eaters, witchcraft, mysterious coffins on mountain cliffs and age-old inscriptions on animal bones, but also with major themes or tales from Chinese classical literature and history, such as the heroic story of female general Mu Guiying, or the life and times of the famous Tang poet Li Bai.
Guo’s composition students and many others who know him personally find that the man rather closely resembles his music: Guo is full of gusto, straight-forward, sometimes a bit stubborn and on his guard; he frequently punctuates his speech with impatient gestures, streams of onomatopoeic words and sudden outbursts of anger or enthusiasm. It echoes the dramatic and dynamic character of his music, not just his works in broad romantic vein (which most clearly betray the influence of Western classical models), but also his pieces for Chinese voices and instruments.
While growing up in Sichuan Province in the 1960s and 70s, Guo Wenjing heard a great deal of local folk music, from story singers in teahouses to local opera and boatmen songs on the Yangzi River. At the time he did not give this music or the people and landscapes of his native region much thought. However, after joining the Central Conservatory in Beijing, for study and eventually for teaching composition, and especially upon his second stay there, from 1990 onwards, reminiscenses of his native Sichuan and the music there began to to take on a new and deeper significance in his own music. From the very start of his compositional career, Guo quoted elements from folk music, but in the 1990s, Chinese folk influences began to bring his style ever closer to that of traditional repertoire, at least in the works which he wrote for Chinese voices and instruments: particularly in many of his operas and in some of his chamber works, Guo’s sounds would often remain so close to traditional Chinese repertoire as to be almost undistinguishable from those of regional folk music.

Early works – a fusion of western modern and Chinese folk influences

Fair enough, the piano and chamber works which Guo Wenjing produced as a Conservatory student in the 1980s were already suffused with the workcries of boatmen from Sichuan and other elements of regional folk music, but they often worked more like quotations and were not yet a fully integrated part of his style. The mood of these early pieces was often dark, a deliberate contrast with the quick and merry tunes which had been common fare in China’s political propaganda music from the 1950s to 1970s. Like so many of his classmates, Guo wanted to express the hardships and sorrows which common people in China experienced in daily life. This determined the tone of such – very Bartókian – works as The Gorge, for piano (his opus 1, of 1979), the First String Quartet Rivers of Sichuan (1981) and his first major symphonic work, and graduation piece at the Conservatory in Beijing: Suspended Ancient Coffins on the Cliffs in Sichuan, for two pianos and orchestra (1983).
Alternately known as Burial on the Precipice in Sichuan, this piece already demonstrated, in the boldness of its colours and brutality of its rhythms, a new sophistication and daring. The music was less indebted to Western romanticism than Guo’s previous works. It was more personal in style, more exuberant, and inspired by an unusual subject. The title refers to a number of mysterious coffins which rest on vertical poles protruding from rocks high on the northern flank of the Qutang Gorge, the smallest and shortest of the ‘Three Gorges’ of the Yangzi River. The water flows very rapidly in that gorge. The coffins – seen as tiny dark objects by travellers on the water below – are ascribed to an ancient tribal culture which apparently had the habit of burying their dead in high and airy places. Some of the coffins contain bronze swords and other artefacts. Suspended Ancient Coffins did reveal influences from Lutoslawski and Penderecki, but also contained intriguing Chinese percussion effects and imitations of the nasal glissandi of traditional fiddles in the string-writing.

Guo’s quest for a satisfactory blend of Chinese and Western idioms continued after he went back to his native Sichuan to work for a local Song and Dance Troupe in 1983. His most important works in this period were the symphonic poem Sutra on Tibetan Streamers (1986), the Violin Concerto (1986-87) and the choral symphony Shu Dao Nan (1987). The last piece in particular, a setting of the poem ‘Hard roads of Shu’ by the great Sichuanese poet and restless traveller Li Bai (701-762), earned him success in China. The work, for solo tenor, choir and orchestra, epitomized the wild scenery of Sichuan’s mountains, but the ‘hard roads’ of the text were also metaphorical. The basic mood of the piece was dark and cataclysmic; Shu dao nan appeared to mourn a great tragedy, perhaps the victims of a war – most likely the ill-fated history of the Chinese people in the twentieth century – in a manner close to what Shostakovich achieved in his brooding symphonies. Coming in the wake of the Cultural Revolution, it is not a surprise that this work became popular in the People’s Republic. The vocal writing of the work showed influences from Sichuan Opera and demonstrated a new kind of sophistication. Guo’s Violin Concerto, from the same period, did likewise, with a solo part that imitated melodical phrases and expressive techniques from Peking opera.
These works made Guo so famous in China that he received many new commissions, especially to write music for television and film, a welcome development since he now supported a family and needed money. Meanwhile, he was making new discoveries exploring Western music, from Shostakovich’s final Symphonies (much admired by Guo) to Schoenberg (yet another hero in his quickly expanding pantheon of Western musical role models).

The 1990s: Increasing impact from Sichuanese music

Guo returned to Beijing in 1990 and became assistant head of the Central Conservatory’s Composition Department. It was a period of heightened tensions in all institutions of higher learning in the capital, following the crackdown on the Tian’anmen Democracy movement of June 1989, but Guo was not pessimistic. He knew the older generation in the Conservatory was firmly supporting new Chinese music, and he kept the hope that the political tensions in Beijing would merely be temporary. At this time, it was no longer Western new music which foremost occupied his mind, but increasingly the cultural and musical memories of his native province Sichuan.

The first outcome of this renewed engagement with tradition, marking a new departure in artistic terms, was She Huo, for Western ensemble with added Chinese percussion (1991), a rowdy, fiery and passionate piece, perhaps reminiscent – in its rigour and violent energy – of the music of Galina Ustvolskaya. Guo turned the Nieuw Ensemble of Amsterdam (who had commissioned the work) into a kind of Chinese peasant band, by re-tuning their instruments, by letting the cellist strum his strings in an almost drunken fashion, and by letting the flutist sing into his instrument. Significantly, he also had three players perform intricate cross-rhythms on Chinese cymbals. The title of the work referred to the blessing and thanksgiving ceremonies so common in Chinese folk festivals, and the music neatly captured the bustling atmosphere of such an outdoor folk festival or time-honoured ritual. In China, She Huo was first heard only six years later, when the Nieuw Ensemble came to Beijing as one of the first Western groups to perform Chinese contemporary music there. Urban Chinese responded politely, perhaps not always clear what they were precisely listening to. She Huo, performed all over Europe to great acclaim, paved the road to further experiments with a style closer to actual folk music. Guo also said he wanted to capture the mystery and the sadness of Sichuan landscapes, perpetually veiled in mist, and the remarkable strength of its local people, ‘skinny and small, but with a great inner strength.
The two works he wrote next, for Chinese orchestra – the Bamboo Flute Concerto Chou Kong Shan (1992, re-scored for western symphony orchestra in 1995) and the symphonic poem Melodies of West Yunnan (1993) – seemed to be temporary diversions from this path, but his next major work, the opera Wolf Cub Village, commissioned once again by the Dutch Nieuw Ensemble, embroidered on the glowing energy of She Huo and took it one big stride further, by adding Chinese-style voices to raucous strings and vigorous percussion. Guo created a drama of considerable power, and took pride in the fact that he had written the first opera in which European actors all performed in Chinese. The work, with a libretto by Zeng Li, was premiered in the Holland Festival in 1994, was repeated elsewhere in Europe and in Asia, and eventually led to a commission to write another opera. for the Almeida Theatre in London.

Wolf Cub Village is a free adaptation of ‘Diary of a Madman’ (Kuangren riji) from Lu Xun’s famous collection of stories ‘Call to Arms’ (Nahan). Lu Xun characterizes Chinese society as cannibalistic in its lust for violence and destruction. Guo Wenjing claims that he used the story primarily because he liked its suspense and its preoccupation with ghosts, witchcraft, and fantastic events. On the surface, ‘Diary of a Madman’ portrays a man who thinks that he lives in an environment of man-eaters. He imagines that the people in his village are all cannibals or wolves, and that he may be their next victim. In Guo Wenjing’s opera, a village doctor forces the man to take some medicine (which contains human blood). The man initially calms down, but then comes to the conclusion that he, too, is a man-eater, like the others. He is co-responsible for ‘four thousand years of man eating’ which have gone on in his village.

Lu Xun’s ‘Diary of a Madman’ first appeared in China in 1918, when the country was torn apart by Chinese warlords, foreign invasions, famines and war. Lu Xun protested against this gradual collapse of the country and the people he loved. Instead of trying to build a healthy nation, Chinese men were fighting and eating each other. ‘Diary of a Madman’ was the first modern short story written in vernacular Chinese. Its ten-odd pages had a major impact on contemporary Chinese literature and social thought. Guo Wenjing turned this dark tale into a shattering theatrical statement. The instrumental writing in his opera is pungent and vivid, the orchestration sparse but effective, with occasional demonic outbursts for percussion. Guo’s vocal lines are characterised by micro-tonal inflections and frequent slides into falsetto, they swoop and waver, switch continually from spoken word to semi-pitched speech to song. They rarely take wing in full-blown melody, but achieve moments of great lyricism, certainly in the madman’s tense solos, and in the other-worldly tranquil cantilena of the ghost of the Madman’s sister, towards the end of the work. Guo’s 50-minute opera soon invited comparisons with other musical works on the themes of madness or apocalypse, such as Ligeti‘s Le Grand Macabre, Maxwell DaviesEight songs for a mad king, Shostakovich’s The Nose, and Alban Berg‘s Wozzeck. Wolf Cub Village became one of the most successful of all Chinese modern operas, a monument on a par with Tan Dun’s Marco Polo, and it was taken up by prominent new music ensembles in the UK, Switzerland, Norway and elsewhere.

In the next two years, Guo Wenjing added some attractive chamber works for Chinese instruments to his oeuvre. Late Spring (1995) commissioned by Maison de Radio France, a light and pleasant polylogue for pipa (four-stringed lute), zheng (21-stringed bridged zither), ruan (Chinese round-shaped guitar), bass, erhu (two-stringed stick fiddle), chinese flutes, and percussion, and Drama, for three pairs of Chinese cymbals and the players’ voices (1996), an ‘encyclopedia for cymbals’, according to its composer. Drama employs only three small-sized pairs of cymbals, but offers a surprising range of delicate timbral effects and complex cross-rhythms, and keeps the listener spellbound for 25 minutes. (A follow-up work, Parade, likewise written for three percussionists and equally entertaining and challenging, appeared in 2004).
Another important work to emerge in 1996 was Inscriptions on Bone, for alto voice and 15 instruments, in which Guo Wenjing portrayed in music an ancient Chinese legend about the goddess Nüwa who repaired heaven. The piece, yet another work commissioned by the Nieuw Ensemble, demonstrated his continued interest in voices and percussion, and in the potential of mysterious tales, but it marked a turning-point in terms of his choice of melodic materials: the music was more harmonious in expression than Wolf Cub Village, and melodically strongly dependent on fourths and fifths. The alto singer tells the tale of a disastrous collapse of the firmament, which results in general chaos, the raging of fierce fires on earth and an upsurge of evil spirits who chase and devour innocent people. With Inscriptions on Bone, Guo confirmed the artistic promises of his first opera Wolf Cub Village, without repeating himself, and he strengthened his appeal as an essentially dramatic composer.

The Elegy for soprano solo and three percussionists (1996), which Guo wrote for the Italian ensemble Ars Ludi, embroidered on the dark atmosphere and sound world of Wolf Cub Village without adding many new dimensions. The work was commisioned by the Italian Embassy in Beijing. Most of Guo’s ties with the West now lay in Europe, but there was also a growing interest for his music in the United States. During a visit of several months to the States in 1996 he wrote a Concertino for Cello and Ensemble (premiered the next year by Natalia Gutman and the Nieuw Ensemble in Amsterdam) and received an invitation from the Kronos Quartet to write a work for them (his Second String Quartet, finished in 1998). Back in China, he declined an invitation from the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra to write a piece called Xianggang huigui (‘Hong Kong’s return’), on the occasion of the handover of Hong Kong to China in July 1997, but he did accept to write an Overture for an orchestra in Hong Kong which celebrated the same theme. His most important occupation during this period was work on his second chamber opera, Night Banquet, which was produced by the Almeida Theatre in London and the Hong Kong Arts Festival in 1998, and revised in 2001.

After 2000: towards greater lyricism, and more direct use of Chinese traditional elements

At this time, Guo’s music was gradually moving away from the dark and gloomy style which dominated many of his best achievements in the 1990s. He now also turned more to Chinese musical tradition as a direct source, from which, if necessary, even wholesale arias could be quoted and incorporated in his own works.

Night Banquet (Ye yan) is an altogether more lyrical drama than Wolf Cub Village, and it has a prominent role for pipa (Chinese lute). The opera takes its inspiration from a famous 10th-century scroll, ‘The Night Revels of Han Xizai’, painted by Gu Hongzhong. It shows a pageant with music, dance and food with the poet-scholar Han Xizai at the centre. Han Xizai has been invited to accept a high position at the Emperor’s court, but the Emperor is a weak and corrupt ruler, and Han Xizai is actually reluctant to work for him. He therefore choses to exclude himself from public office by embarking on a nightly routine of banquets and debauchery. Guo Wenjing’s opera, to a contemporary libretto by Zhou Jingzhi, relates the events which take place during one such banquet. Two court painters, sent by the Emperor, arrive to spy upon Han Xizai’s activities, and Han simulates being drunk, even undressing in front of them, in the presence of his concubine. The painters flee in dismay, determined to reveal Han’s behaviour to the Emperor by portraying it in a painting. Han Xizai is left behind, lamenting the imminent demise of his country. (The corrupt Emperor will soon perish in captivity.) Once again, in this work Guo managed to create a persuasive mix of Chinese, Western classical and contemporary sounds, the Western ensemble of five string players, three wind players, four percusionists and a harp blend effortlessly with Chinese lute, cymbals and drums. The pipa player at the premiere performance was Wu Man, and her part in the music was so prominent that many considered her to be the actual star of the work. A second version of Night Banquet premiered at the Paris Autumn Festival in 2001, and was also given in Berlin, New York (Lincoln center) and Perth, and two years later in Beijing.

A growing interest in Buddhism and in Tibetan culture made Guo decide to try his hand at an opera on Tsangyang Gyatso (the sixth Dalai lama), but this work never materialized, except for one meditative scene for choir and percussion (Echoes of Heaven and Earth, 1998) and a short and calm piece for sheng (Chinese mouth organ) and six wind instruments, called Sounds from Tibet (2001). These two works were published as independent compositions. They emerged in the same period in which Guo wrote a Third String Quartet (1999, with dizi bamboo flute; commissioned by the Arditti Quartet), and By Spring, All Ten Haizi (2001), a lyrical setting for soprano, harp and orchestra of poems by the contemporary poet Haizi. But Guo felt inexorably drawn towards opera, and in the first decade of the 21st century, his main occupation was producing a series of theatre works which increasingly depended on Chinese operatic vocal techniques as well as narrative themes.

This resulted, first and foremost, in an impressive opera trilogy about Chinese war heroines: Mu Guiying (2003), Hua Mulan (2004) and Liang Hongyu (2008). For these full-length plays, Guo cooperated with the Beijing-based theatre director and playwright Li Liuyi, who wrote the libretti and also directed the stage performances. The first two plays are tragedies, the final one is a comedy. All three operas were premiered in Beijing and later taken to Singapore and other cities in Asia. The entire trilogy was shown on three successive nights at the Holland Festival in May/June 2008. Musically, these operas are at times so close to traditional Peking opera as to be undistinguishable from traditional theatre plays, but there are forays into more contemporary sounds, with Guo extending the playing techniques of the traditional Chinese instruments and grouping them in new, often Stravinskian combinations. Theatrically speaking, all three works move well beyond the conventional ‘fixed role types’ genre of opera sanctioned by Chinese tradition. Guo and Li Liuyi in their trilogy basically spawned a novel approach to Chinese drama. The stories and plot lines were largely traditional, but characters in the plays were richly developed, their actions evolving in more subtle shades of light and dark than customary in traditional Chinese theatre, and their expressive register certainly superseded the traditional range of ornamented falsettos and stylized movements.
The operas took audiences in Beijing by surprise. Older opera fans initially resisted what they saw, but were eventually won over by the persuasive energy of the plays. In Singapore, where Mu Guiying was shown in January 2005, young theatre audiences were clearly open to Guo’s and Li Luiyi’s innovations, but an older conservative faction accused creators and cast in a public forum of ‘undermining Chinese tradition’. Responses in the West have generally been positive, encouraging Guo to explore this path further. He did so in two chamber operas closely modelled on traditional Sichuan opera: Fenyiting (Phoenix Pavilion) (2004) and Si Fan / The Inner Landscape (2015). The first of these blended the high-pitched male voice of Peking opera singer Jiang Qihu with that of female Sichuan opera singer Shen Tiemei, and combined it with a chamber ensemble of Chinese and Western instruments. Si Fan / The Inner Landscape, an opera for just one solo singer (Shen Tiemei) and a background Sichuan opera chorus plus two instrumental ensembles (one Western, one Chinese) takes the process of using traditional opera as a resource one step further by incorporating arias from traditional Sichuan opera wholesale, and primarily providing them with a new instrumentation. For Guo this exporation of native Sichuanese sounds, in close cooperation with singer Shen Tiemei whom he greatly admires, was like a homecoming, but also an opportunity to promote a beloved theatre genre of his native region, giving it new stages and new audiences abroad. The premiere performance of Si Fan / The Inner Landscape at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam in the summer of 2015 was well-received, but it remains to be seen if this experiment in ‘refurnishing’ traditional music will also be palatable for native audiences in China.

Conclusion: Guo’s need to bear in mind requirements of a ‘domestic market’

In his early years Guo Wenjing started off as a composer of dark and dramatic works directly influenced by Bartók, Shostakovich, Lutoslawski and Penderecki. From the very beginning he infused his compositions with Chinese folk influences, and this aspect would take on more prominence in the course of his artistic development. It eventually culminated in the wholesale incorporation of arias and vocal idioms from traditional opera in works like Fenyiting and Si Fan.
Guo found his true personal voice in his theatrical compositions, perhaps most convincingly in Wolf Cub Village, which so eminently demonstrates his major strengths – impressive writing for solo voices, an imaginative use of Chinese percussion, and a powerful sense for dramatic development. Other Chinese composers, like Tan Dun, have tended to be stylistically more eclectic in their operatic works, perhaps also more focused on sonic effects. In Guo’s mature compositions, the Chinese elements are usually completely integrated, and do not strike the listeners as ‘exotic’ stylings. This aspect, and Guo’s focus on wild, eerie and mysterious Chinese tales grant him a unique place among present-day artists, both at home and abroad. One further element that sets him apart from many Chinese colleagues is the fact that he never left China, and that his current position as head of the country’s most important composition department makes him politically vulnerable, and directly influences his artistic choices. Guo will undoubtedly continue to experiment with traditional Chinese forms and sounds, but he is keenly aware of the Chinese government’s interest in easily accessible works, and he feels the need to keep in touch with listeners in China: he has pursued a stylistically mild and fairly romantic path in many of his recent compositions.
Poet Li Bai (2007), an opera he wrote for the City Opera House in Denver, combines elements of traditional Chinese opera with functional harmony and Western classical romantic gestures, a style further explored in works like Journeys, for soprano and orchestra (2004) and the a times Puccini-like grandeur of the opera Luotuo Xiangzi (The Rickshaw Boy), succesfully premiered in Beijing in 2014 and restaged in Italy in 2015. Guo also adopted a more conventional ‘romantic’ idiom in several of his works for Western symphony orchestra, such as his Heroic Symphony of 2004, and his ballet Peony Pavilion (2008), which met with mixed reviews following performances in the West.

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2016

Catalog sources and details

Catalogue sélectif : certaines œuvres de jeunesse ainsi que plusieurs œuvres en cours de révision n’ont pas été incluses au catalogue. Guo Wenjing a en outre écrit une quarantaine de musiques pour le cinéma et la télévision, parmi lesquelles : Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2005) réalisé par Zhang Yimou, In the Heat of the Sun (1994) réalisé par Jiang Wen, Red Powder (or Blush) (1994) réalisé par Li Shaohong, et Chess King (1988) réalisé par Teng Wenji.

Catalog source(s)

Catalogue sélectif : certaines œuvres de jeunesse ainsi que plusieurs œuvres en cours de révision n’ont pas été incluses au catalogue. Guo Wenjing a en outre écrit une quarantaine de musiques pour le cinéma et la télévision, parmi lesquelles : Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2005) réalisé par Zhang Yimou, In the Heat of the Sun (1994) réalisé par Jiang Wen, Red Powder (or Blush) (1994) réalisé par Li Shaohong, et Chess King (1988) réalisé par Teng Wenji.



  • GUO Wenjing, Inscriptions on Bone, Anna Larsson, contralto, Nieuw Ensemble, Ed Spanjaard, direction, « Fifty Years Holland Festival, a Dutch Miracle », 6 cds Globe, 1997, GLO6900.
  • GUO Wenjing, Drama, Rolf Hildebrand, Tobias Liebezeit, Olaf Normann, percussions et voix, « Ferne Klänge : Neue Musik aus Ostasien », avec des œuvres de Chen Qigang, Toshio Hosokawa, Bonu Koo, Younghi Pagh-Paan, Chen Xiaoyong, 1 cd Ambitus, 2000.
  • GUO Wenjing, Wolf Cub Village, Kong Fang-fang, Elena Vink, sopranos, Nigel Robson, ténor, Ananda Goud, alto, Shi Kelong, Romain Bischoff, Palle Fuhr Jørgensen, barytons, John Tranter, Emile Godding, basses, Nieuw Ensemble, Ed Spanjaard, direction, 1 cd Zebra Records, 2001.
  • GUO Wenjing, She Huo, Nieuw Ensemble, Ed Spanjaard, direction, « New Music from China » avec des œuvres de Mo Wuping, Chen Qigang, Xu Shuya et Tan Dun, 1 cd Zebra, 2001, Zebra001.
  • GUO Wenjing, Melodies of Western Yunnan, Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, Yan Huichang, direction, « Soundscape » avec des œuvres de Yan Huichang, Luo Yonghui, Doming Lam, Tan Dun, 1 cd Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, 2002.
  • GUO Wenjing, Chou Kong Shan, Dai Yan, dizi, Göteborgs Symfoniker, Neeme Järvi, direction, « Göteborgs Symfoniker och Neeme Järvi », 1 cd Warner, 2002.
  • GUO Wenjing, Late Spring, « Warsaw Autumn 2014 : 57th International Festival of Contemporary Music », 1 cd Polish Music Information Center, 2014.