Ge Gan-ru, described in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians as ‘China’s first avant-garde composer’, is regarded as one of the most original composers of his generation. His music is known for its immediately identifiable individualism and unique sound.
Ge’s life is the product of momentous circumstances. Born in Shanghai in 1954, he studied violin when he was young but never intended to become a musician. In 1966, when he was 11 years old, the Cultural Revolution broke out. As all schools were closed, he spent most of his time practicing violin at home. Western music was strictly forbidden, so he had to practice on a muted violin with windows closed and sealed. At 17, he was sent to a labor camp to receive “re-education” where unexpectedly he met and became a pupil of one of the best violin teachers in China who was also forced into hard labor at the camp. After a year of planting rice in the fields, Ge was summoned to play violin in an ensemble, entertaining fellow workers with revolutionary songs every night. However, Ge showed a great interest in arranging music for the ensemble in spite of a lack of training in music theory.
When Ge was 20, the Shanghai Conservatory of Music reopened and he was admitted as a violin student. But in the next three years while he was studying violin, he had an increasing urge to be a composer. He eventually transferred to the Composition Department where he studied for another four years. After graduation in 1981, Ge was appointed assistant professor of composition at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ge was already known in China as the first composer to employ contemporary and avant-garde techniques, which were prohibited at the time. He was criticized for his individualism which was directly at odds with the prevailing ideology. His cello piece “Yi Feng”, written in 1982, marked the first avant-garde composition in China’s music history.
In 1983, Ge became the first Chinese composer to be invited to study at Columbia University in New York where he obtained a doctoral degree in composition. He has since resided in the metro New York area.
Ge has composed music for concerts as well as theater, dance and documentary and feature films. The New York Philharmonic, BBC Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Lyon National Orchestra, Tokyo Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra, Orchestra of Castilla y Leon, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Shanghai Philharmonic, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Kronos Quartet, Shanghai Quartet, Miami Quartet and many other ensembles have commissioned and performed his works.
Ge’s music has been released by Naxos, BIS Records, Telarc, Albany Records, New Albion Records and Mode Records. His orchestral album “Chinese Rhapsody”, chamber music disc “Lost Style” and string quartet CD “Fall of Baghdad” have received critical acclaims worldwide. “Fall of Baghdad” was selected as one the best CDs in 2009 by The New York Times. A CD of his flute concerto “Fairy Lady Meng Jiang” (2008) and orchestral suite “Lovers Besiege” (2009) will be released by BIS Records in 2010.
Ge was chosen as one of the two “most inspiring” classical music composers in today’s world by New York’s “Listen” magazine in 2010.
Ge Gan-ru’s music reflects his deep interest in amalgamating Eastern and Western musical aesthetics. He writes, “I try to combine contemporary Western compositional techniques with my Chinese experience and Chinese musical characteristics to create a unique and highly individual sound world.”