I was invited last week to Dunhuang, Resonance of Silk Road, Past and Present, a concert by the Hong Kong Gaudeamus Dunhuang Ensemble.
Set up on seed funding from the New World Group Charity Foundation, the ensemble's core members are young musicians from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.
The idea of forming the group was sparked two years ago when Dunhuang aficionado Leonie Ki Man-fung met two students of the academy, Yue Kin-long and Felissa Chan Wan-in. Subsequently, they met Dunhuang Research Academy director Zhao Shengliang, and took steps to turn the dream into reality.
Dunhuang is a treasure trove of Chinese culture, spanning Buddhism and uplifting dance moves to relics that includes old music scores.
Members of the ensemble traveled to the northwest Gansu city to conduct research on the music scores and draw inspiration for their music composition.
The numbers they performed at the concert, including Da Tang Li Zan, Gong Hua Shou and Jing Tu Fan Yin, blended elements of history and religion into music, an embodiment of the magnificent Dunhuang culture.
Apart from the more familiar pipa and guzheng, the group also used konghou, ruan and xun.
A ceramic flute, Xun was first used 7,000 years ago. Its simple structure makes a haunting sound that was described in the ancient times as the voice of those with high morals. In the number Yang Guan San Die, the xun expressed the desolation of a vast desert.
Zhao was a guest at the concert too. Steeped in the Dunhuang culture, he has studied in Japan for eight years in the conservation of relics, and is a master calligrapher.
He said all past directors of the academy were attentive to the protection of the Dunhuang caves. And by portraying the beauty of Dunhuang through music, the ensemble was also promoting and enriching Dunhuang's cultural heritage in a novel way.
is publisher of Sing Tao Daily