Huang Ruo premieres ‘Invisible Compass’ at PianoFest

Photo courtesy of DuoDiorama
Photo courtesy of DuoDiorama

by Donna Marbury for

Avant garde Chinese composer Huang Ruo premieres his newest composition on Thursday, Oct. 18 during PianoFest held at Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall, 430 S. Michigan Ave. The event is held jointly by Chicago’s Chinese Fine Arts Society and the Roosevelt University Chicago College of Performing Arts, and features works from Ruo, Chen Yi, Bright Sheng and Tan Dun. “[Ruo] is eclectic, interesting and very current and we are honored that he will be joining us for this very special world premiere,” said Julie Ma, board president of the Chinese Fine Arts Society.

Ruo’s latest piece, The Invisible Compass, is being performed by violin/piano couple Duo Diorama. The married duo includes MingHuan Xu on violin and Winston Choi on piano, and has been performing classical and contemporary music together around the globe for 10 years.

Below Choi discusses the sensual elements of Ruo’s latest composition, the misconceptions about Chinese contemporary music and how they maintain balance between violin and piano.

Q: What did you learn from working with Huang Ruo?

Winston Choi: He gives performers a great deal of freedom when interpreting music. In fact, he preferred us to come up with our own interpretation and rendition of the works before telling us his own thoughts. We will be meeting him in a few days when he arrives in Chicago and will get the chance to work carefully with him. The music itself challenges us, pushes us and is a work that we’re very proud to have had written specifically for us to perform.

Q: How is your experience working with the Chinese Fine Arts Society?

Choi: They are a tremendous organization and we are proud to have been named Artists-in-Residence last year. Their mission of promoting Chinese art and music to as wide of an audience as possible is something that we also believe and hold dear to us as well.

Q: How complex is it to coordinate piano and violin when you perform?

Choi: Violin and piano can be quite tricky, not only for timing, but to find compatible and complimentary sounds. We have played together long enough that we have a good understanding of each other’s sense of pacing and matching sounds.

Q: Are there are the misconceptions about contemporary Chinese music?

Choi: One misconception is that you just throw a pentatonic scale into piece of music and then it sounds Chinese. Many of the composers that you hear on Oct. 18 have carefully and methodically researched Chinese traditions, folk songs, philosophies and incorporated this into their music, fusing it with certain Western sounds and concepts. The end result is something that is fresh and modern, while maintaining its roots to these composers’ Chinese heritage.

Q: How would you describe The Invisible Compass using your five senses?

Choi: Tastes and smells like a spicy Szechuan Chinese dish. Sounds vibrant, resonant and hypnotic. Feels powerful. Looks profound.

For more information on PianoFest, visit or call 312-341-2352.

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