The Imperial Bells of China

Rebecca Varidel
27th Jul 2017

In 1978 a large number of Chu musical instruments including bronze and stone chime-bells, were unearthed at the Marquis Yi of Zeng's tomb in Sui County, Hubei province, China. The excavation of the 'Underground Museum of Musical Instruments' with more than 2,400 years of history drew immediate attention from both China and abroad. Perhaps the most notable instrument from the tomb is the bronze bell Bianzhong.

In concert, the full program of The Imperial Bells of China is excitingly diverse, embracing and captivating from its opening Sound Of Peace. Renowned as the Eighth Wonder of the World, Bianzhong of Mariquis Yi of the Zeng State (also known as Chinese chime bells) represent the wisdom of human civilization. On the Concert Hall stage of the Sydney Opera House, the ancient music 'Sound of Peace' rings through the time portal representing the colourful arts and culture in the ancient Chinese royal palace, as well as the life from that time of those working in the fields. 

Across the Yin and the Yan of The Imperial Bells of China concert, the varied repertoire includes female and male vocal solos each side of interval. Perhaps from these "I'm Like a Snow Flake Falling from the Sky" in which the author expresses the euphoric feeling of pure love through anthropomorphism and incarnates as snow flakes and autumn leaves resonates most finely. Indeed singer Qin Desong not only delivers heavenly purity in voice performance but his body heart and soul seems to flow as a snow flake through time and space. 

Folk music weaves the program starting with the minority Yao through God Bird of the Getian tribe and stopping by the multicultural Silk Road. In this the elements of Flamenco, Tango and Tap. But pulsing underneath there seems a gypsy, more Hungarian than Spanish.

Yet the hero of the night must be the Chimes. The most splendid two pieces, ancient chime music of the Chu 'Harmony Of Eight Tones' representing gold, stone, silk, bamboo, gourd, earth, leather and wood, and the contemporary composition by Tang Jianping the full length chime music 'Impression of Chu' bring the program to its crescendo.

And after the gentle ending of folk music 'My Homeland' a surprise encore has the audience joyfully clapping along. Here and throughout we see Zhou Wen beyond the conductor as the total performer that she is.

Although the chime bells are more than 2,000 years old, the vibrations of this performance transcend time. If you get the opportunity, The Imperial Bells Of China is an amazing and unexpected spectrum of ancient sound perfect for any music lover.

The Imperial Bells of China were presented in a single performance at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday July 23rd.