Gao Hong, a Chinese musical prodigy and master of the pear-shaped lute, the pipa, began her career as a professional musician at age 12. She graduated with honors from China's premier music school, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she studied with the great pipa master Lin Shicheng. In both China and the U.S. Gao has received numerous top awards and honors, including First Prize in the Hebei Professional Young Music Performers Competition and an International Art Cup in Beijing. In 2005 Gao Hong became the first traditional musician to be awarded the prestigious Bush Artist Fellowship, and in 2012 she became the first musician in any genre to win four McKnight Artist Fellowships for Performing Musicians. The Minnesota State Arts Board has awarded her with an Artist Assistance Fellowship, an Artist Initiative Grant, and a Cultural Community Partnership grant. She has also received a LIN (Leadership Initiatives in Neighborhoods) Grant from the St. Paul Companies; three Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grants; an Asian Pacific Award; and an Encore award, a Subito award, and two Performance Incentive Funds from the American Composers Forum.
Gao has performed throughout Europe, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, China, and the U.S. in solo concerts and with symphony orchestras, jazz musicians, and musicians from other cultures. She has performed at many major festivals worldwide. Her performances have included those at the Lincoln Center Festival; Carnegie Hall; the San Francisco Jazz Festival; the Smithsonian Institution; the Next Wave Festival; Festival d'Automne a Paris in Paris and Caen, France; the International Festival of Perth, Australia; and the Festival de Teatro d'Europa in Milan, Italy. Her performances of pipa concerti with symphony orchestras include several world, U.S., and regional premieres and performances with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony, Heidelberg (Germany) Philharmonic, the Women's Philharmonic in San Francisco, the Portland (Maine) Symphony, and the Minneapolis Pops Orchestra among others. In addition, she performed with the Lincoln Center production of “The Peony Pavilion.”
As a composer, she has received commissions from the American Composers Forum, Walker Art Center, the Jerome Foundation, Zeitgeist, Ragamala Music and Dance Theater, Theater Mu, IFTPA, Danish guitarist Lars Hannibal, and Twin Cities Public Television for the six-part series "Made in China." Meet the Composer Inc. in New York City has awarded her two Creative Connections grants and two MetLife Creative Connections grants.
In addition to Gao Hong’s own solo performances of her compositions worldwide, her music has been performed internationally by many world class musicians. In 2000, Song of the Pipa, a play based on Gao Hong’s life and the life of Chinese poet, Bai Juyi, received 20 performances by Theater Mu and featured live musical accompaniment and new compositions by Gao Hong. In 2007 her first choral composition - “The Coming of Spring” - was one of five pieces selected out of 128 applicants nationwide for a reading session by VocalEssence. The piece was premiered by VocalEssence at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul in 2008. "Awakening" - her newly commissioned piece from the Jerome Foundation - was premiered by Gao Hong and Speaking in Tongues at Muziekgebouw aan het IJ in Amsterdam in March, 2007. In the same year she was also selected to participate in a composer’s workshop hosted by the new music ensemble, Zeitgeist, and premiered her new composition “Courage” - for pipa and percussion - with Present Music in Milwaukee. In 2008, to celebrate Gao Hong's 35th anniversary of playing her pipa and 10 years as a composer, Hong headlined two major concerts featuring her compositions at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall and Ted Mann Hall in Minneapolis. She composed a special pipa and sitar duet with guest artists Shubhendra Rao on sitar- a top disciple of Ravi Shankar - and rising young tabla star Biplab Bhattacharya. Three of her works received their world premieres and were performed by taiko drum master Kenny Endo, David Hagedorn on percussion, cellist Michelle Kinney, Gao Hong on pipa, and Indian vocalist and veena player Nirmala Rajasekar.
Since her arrival in U.S. in 1994, Gao Hong has been featured in over 100 newspaper and magazine articles and four television documentaries. Including on the NPR radio show “Performance Today” (the most- listened-to classical music radio show in America, hosted by Fred Child), MPR "The Joy of Pipa" hosted by Karl Gehrke and The CBS Radio KMOX 1120 with Charlie Brennan Show in St Louis. She has presented hundreds of educational workshops for elementary through college-age students, and has been on the faculty of Metropolitan State University and MacPhail Center for the Arts. She is currently on the music faculty of Carleton College where she teaches Chinese instruments and directs the Chinese Music Ensemble. She is also a Guest Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and a Guest Professor of Tianjin Conservatory of Music in China. She is a roster artist with the Minnesota State Arts Board.
China's foremost music publication, "People's Music," wrote of Gao Hong that "like the famous Luoyang peony, she has gradually emerged as the best of all beautiful flowers...her performance has extremely strong artistic appeal and belongs under the category of 'fine wine'...the more you listen, the more beautiful it gets..."
When she was small, Gao Hong's fellow musicians nicknamed her the "little black kitten." That was in honor of her face, which was often speckled with soot when her friends woke up in the morning. By then, Gao had usually put in two hours practicing the pipa in the furnace room, the only place she could use without waking her colleagues in a provincial song and dance troupe in north central China. When she smiled, the flecks of coal soot would form tiny wrinkles around her eyes, giving her a cat-like appearance. Although only 12, Gao was an intense performer. She also was a lonely little girl, having left her family in the ancient Chinese capital of Luoyang and moved 400 miles away to Heibei Province to begin her career. There were a lot of quiet tears at night, but she fully understood that it was an opportunity for her amidst the chaos created by the Cultural Revolution. Her father, a government official and landowner, had been blacklisted and sent to a rural area to learn from the peasants and that eventually led to a divorce. Gao's mother held the family together as a music teacher, but when Gao joined the troupe it eased the strain on the family budget. After three years with the traveling troupe, Gao went to an arts school where could resume her neglected education and still practice and perform. When she was 22, she was one of two pipa players who survived a myriad of tests to become a student at China's premier school of music, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she studied with pipa master Lin Shicheng. After getting a bachelor's degree she became a soloist for the Beijing Song and Dance Troupe, which performed throughout the country. It also made a fateful trip, for Gao, to Tokyo. After hearing her play, the owner of a Japanese booking agency asked her to return as a solo performer.
In 1994 Gao made her first tour of the United States. She made appearances in ten cities throughout the country, including New York City, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Denver, and Minneapolis. There have been other tours since including one with her mentor, Lin Shicheng, China's master of the traditional Pudong style of playing the pipa. Lin, who was 74, had never performed with a student except his son, but Gao was always a special student to him. Lin visited his star pupil in 1996 and they performed together in Beijing, Honolulu, Seattle and several places in Minnesota. That collaboration also produced a CD, Hunting Eagles Catching Swans, which has received critical acclaim in Europe, China, and the United States. Gao has been back to China yearly, but her 1996 trip was special. She played at the Beijing Concert Hall with her mentor, Lin Shicheng, before over 1,000 people, including pipa players from throughout the country and much of Beijing's music literati. A critic from Peoples' Music, China's foremost music publication, wrote of Gao that "like the famous Luoyang peony, she has gradually emerged as the best of all beautiful flowers...her performance has extremely strong artistic appeal and belongs under the category of 'fine wine'...the more you listen, the more beautiful it gets."
Gao has taken the pipa into uncharted performance territory. Besides playing solo or with the traditional Chinese music ensembles The Spirit of Nature or The Beijing Trio, Gao also performs with jazz musicians and musicians from other cultures. She has appeared at major festivals and concert halls worldwide, including Lincoln Center, the Smithsonian Institution, Festival of Perth in Australia, Festival d'Automne a Paris, Festival de Teatro d'Europa Milan. Gao also toured internationally with the Lincoln Center production of The Peony Pavilion. Gao has performed with symphony orchestras both here and abroad. Her performances of pipa concerti with symphony orchestras include several world, U.S., and regional premieres and performances with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony, Heidelberg (Germany) Philharmonic, the Women's Philharmonic in San Francisco, and the Portland (Maine) Symphony, and others.
Since moving to the United States in the mid-1990s, Gao has earned a reputation as a tireless and enthusiastic educator. She founded the Hua Yin Children's Chinese Music Ensemble in the basement of her home. Soon the Ensemble found a new home at the MacPhail Center for the Arts in Minneapolis. She has taught at MacPhail Center for the Arts and Metropolitan State University in Minnesota and has appeared as a guest lecturer at numerous colleges and universities throughout the country. She is currently teaching Chinese music instruments and directing a Chinese Music Ensemble at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. She is also a Guest Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and is a roster artist with the Minnesota State Arts Board. Gao is also a founding member of the professional Chinese music ensembles The Spirit of Nature and The Beijing Trio.
In January 1997, Gao became the first Chinese musician to be awarded an Artist Assistance Fellowship from the Minnesota State Arts Board. The same year she was also awarded a McKnight Artist Fellowship for Performing Musicians, a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant, and an Asian-Pacific Award. In 1998, she was Included in Peoples' Publishing's Dictionary of Chinese Musicians. In 2000, she was awarded A LIN (Leadership Initiatives in Neighborhoods) Grant from The St. Paul Companies and performed and composed music for play Song of the Pipa, a Theater Mu production based on Gao Hong's own life story and the life of Bai Juyi. In 2012 she was awarded a forth McKnight Artist Fellowship for Performing Musicians, becoming the first musician in any genre to win the award four times. In 2005, she was the first traditional musician awarded the distinguished Bush Artist Fellowship for Traditional and Folk Arts. While in China, Gao was awarded First Prize in the 1984 Heibei Professional Young Music Performers Competition and a 1989 International Art Cup in Beijing.
Copyright 1999, 2013 Gao Hong