Countertenor Xiao Ma, pianist Zhang Dongfan and their Concert with Ancient Chinese Poems and Songs “Traditional Chinese Style and Sophistication” [1]


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Two highly educated musicians – Xiao Ma and Zhang Dongfan – visited our country at the invitation of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of Bulgaria and the organizers of the fifty-fourth edition of the Sofia Music Weeks International Festival. The concert took place on June 6, 2023 at National Academy of Music “Prof. P. Vladigerov” in front of an audience of Chinese officials, Bulgarian pedagogues, connoisseurs of Chinese arts and culture, Chinese and Bulgarian students.

Ma was the first Chinese countertenor to study piano and vocal mastery in the city of Chengdu, Sichuan Province, specializing under pedagogues from Austria and the United States. He has a vocal repertoire including authors from China, Western Europe, the United States, New Zealand and others. He has won awards for pedagogy (2004), scientific research (2006), singing mastery (2008) [3]. His voice is an expression of the fusion of musical traditions from the East and the West. Dongfan is a precision pianist, with a fine sense of sound and voice, a graduate of Lin Conservatory, with a doctorate at the University of Arizona, USA. He has performed hundreds of times as a soloist and chamber performer. Ma and Dongfan are currently professors with pedagogical, research, and creative projects at Ningbo University, China. The consistency in their performance brought a sense of supreme delight in the audience. The programme covered early samples of Chinese original music and newer compositions on texts by Chinese poets from the Zhou, Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties [4]. The work “Variations” was based on the music and lyrics of the song “In the Spring, When the Apricots Blossom” by Jiang Baishi and an arrangement by Luo Zhuzhong. (Jiang Baishi or Jiang Kui, 1155–1221, was a renowned poet, composer, calligrapher, musicologist, theorist of Chinese poetry.) Works were also performed on texts from the “Book of Songs”, the oldest Chinese song poetry (from the 11th to the 5th century BC), such as “The fish hawks sing and sing” (here in the poetic translation by Hinkov and Nikolova) [5] presented the first work from this written monument in music by the composer Zhao Jiping. (Zhao Jiping is known for his music for the films Yellow Earth, 1984; Red Sorghum, 1987; Raise the Red Lantern, 1991; Farewell, My Companion, 1993; etc.)[6]) Works were also performed on lyrics by the important Chinese poet Li Bai (701–762): In the Silent Night (here translated by Bukovsky and Bakalova) [7], music by Jiang Qingli, and Song of the Moon over Mount Umei, music by Zhao Jiping. The work “Spring Thrills” – based on melody and lyrics from the song I Tear Off a Branch of Sweet Osmanthus by the poet Xu Тaisi (1280–1340) strongly moved the audience with its beautiful melodic line, as well as music by the world-famous composer Gao Weidjie (author of works on Chinese traditional instruments, symphony orchestra, piano, etc.) [8].

Most valuable in the concert evening were Ma and Dongfan’s interpretations, completely different from those of other Chinese musicians. Ma and Dongfan maintained an active dialogue with the audience, created a friendly atmosphere and contributed to the audience’s full experience of treasures of Chinese musical and poetic culture.


[1] Concert with ancient Chinese verses and songs “Traditional Chinese style and sophistication”. Xiao Ma – countertenor. Zhang Dongfan – piano. June 6, Tuesday, 19.00, NAM Hall. 54th Sofia Music Weeks International Festival. 23 May – 30 June 2023 [Program, 1–8].

[2] M. Tzenova is Assoc. Prof. PhD at the Institute of Art Studies – BAS.

[3] Ma, Xiao 肖瑪, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra香港管弦樂團, Ma, Xiao 肖瑪 | 港樂 (

[4] For more detailed analyses of the concert program, the two performers, the audience’s perception of the works and performances, see Tzenova, M. Concert of musicians Xiao Ma 肖 玛 and Zhang Dongfan 张 东 方 in Sofia. Some approaches in search of reception. – In: Musical Horizons, 2023, No. 7, publication pending.

[5] See 詩 經 Book of Songs. The most ancient Chinese poetry. Sofia: Publishing house Iztok-Zapad, 2023 [Hinov, P., A. Nikolova, trans., A. Tsankova, ed. and foreword], 12–13.

[6] More about Zhao Jiping’s film music: Tzenova-Nusheva, M. Music in Chinese cinema. The music in film samples of directors from the so-called Fifth generation. – In: New ideas in musicology. 2014 / 2016. Sofia: Union of Bulgarian Composers – Musicologists Section, 2017, 131–148.

[7] See The Tower of the Yellow Crane. An Anthology of Chinese Poetry. Bukovski, A., L. Bakalova, idea, composition, and translation from English Варна: LiterNet, 2005–2006.

[8] 高为杰Gao Weijie, 2020, 高为杰 – 新芭网 (

Countertenor Xiao Ma, pianist Zhang Dongfan and their Concert with Ancient Chinese Poems and Songs “Traditional Chinese Style and Sophistication” [1]

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