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Heart To Heart – Live Stream Concert: Gao Hong and Issam Rafea Duo

Host: AAPI committee and Office of Asia Engagement
This event is in partnership with the United States Heartland China Association (USHCA). Light refreshments will be provided.

Date: Thursday, October 7, 2021
Location: Student Union, 272C Ballroom
Time: 3 – 5 pm

Gao Hong and Issam Rafea Duo presents “The Blending of Ancient Souls from Syria and China”

Syrian oud master Issam Rafea and Chinese pipa master Gao Hong perform live compositions and improvisations blending Chinese and Arabic techniques in a performance titled “The Blending of Ancient Souls from Syria and China.” Since they never discuss what they will play in advance, no two performances are ever the same. Each concert is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and audiences witness singular creations that come to life before their very eyes and ears – but are never to be repeated. They bring the instruments together for the kind of compelling duets that earned them two gold medals from the Global Music Awards for their 2020 From Our World to Yours album on the ARC Music label, and two nominations for the 2019 Independent Music Awards for their debut album Life as Is. Songlines called their collaboration “consistently engaging, deeply contemplative, and culturally resonant.” Response from their recent performances at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., included:

“You’ve changed my life, opened my heart and spirit!”

“I really was impressed to feel, listen and watch you two creating something sublime, full of joy and in a profound way, capable of awakening the audience spiritually. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like your music allowed all of us to transcend ourselves and be exceptionally present in those moments of creation.”

“…you two move Kandinsky’s spiritual pyramid upwards…which is the true purpose of all art and artists.”

About the Gao Hong and Issam Rafea Duo

Gao Hong and Issam Rafea Duo

Gao Hong and Issam Rafea Duo

The Duo has performed at the Smithsonian Institution, Lotus Festival (Bloomington, IN), Trinity Center for Urban Life in Philadelphia (for Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture), the Schubert Club (St. Paul), Music in the Chapel Concert Series (Minneapolis), the University of Maryland; Carleton College; St. Olaf College; St Paul College; The Cedar Cultural Center; Inn-Fest; Macalester College, Riverside Concerts in Rochester, Minnesota, and at dozens of other venues throughout Minnesota. They were interviewed and featured on the MPR/NPR radio program All Things Considered; and on WCCO/CBS Radio’ s Steele Talkin’ with host Jearlyn Steele. This newly formed duo was also awarded a 2018 USArtists International Grant from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation in the U.S.

Gao Hong and Issam Rafea met in 2017 at Carleton College while Gao Hong was teaching there and Issam Rafea was a residency artist. They bonded when first met and immediately committed to recording and performing together. Once in the recording studio, they began improvising music that was so cohesive it seemed as if they had worked together for years. Both Issam and Gao Hong are wonderful composers, and this helps each anticipate what the other will do in their live compositions.

Since they only play improvisations, no two performances are ever exactly the same, and the Duo often creates instantaneous site-and audience-specific pieces to describe their immediate feelings and honor their audiences. Their music sounds both ancient and strikingly modern at the same time. It is neither Chinese nor Arabic, but something fresh and new that only they can produce. Both musicians are immigrants as well, and the performances are ones that immigrants from any culture can enjoy and relate to.

About Issam Rafea

Issam Rafea

Issam Rafea

Issam Rafea is one of Syria’s elite musicians and winner of the 2010 Best Composer Award in the Dubai International Film Festival (Muhr Arab). Rafea was Chair of the Arabic Music Department at the High Institute of Music in Damascus and principal conductor of the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music from 2003- 2013. In Syria, Rafea was an active composer and arranger for TV and Theater. In addition to several solo appearances with the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Solhi Al Wadi, Rafea has also performed internationally in France, Spain, Germany, Holland, Italy, Morocco, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Kuwait and the United States. He has participated in numerous festivals including the Mediterranean Festival in Algeria; the World Universal Expo in Seville, Spain; the Spiritual Music Festival in Marseille, France; the Arabic Music Conferences in Cairo; and Babel Festival in Iraq. He has performed with guitar virtuoso Fareed Haque in cross-cultural collaborations and, with his Syrian orchestra led a groundbreaking collaboration with Damen Albarn of the British rock bands Blur and Gorillaz. In March of 2013 Rafea was invited to the United States to direct the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble at Northern Illinois University School of Music.

About Gao Hong

Gao Hong

Gao Hong

Gao Hong graduated from Beijing’s elite Central Conservatory of Music. Since coming to the United States, she has performed at the Lincoln Center Festival, Carnegie Hall, the San Francisco Jazz Festival, and at international festivals in Paris, Caen, Milan, and Perth. She has presented concerti for pipa with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Heidelberg Philharmonic, the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, the China National Traditional Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra, Hawaii Symphony, and the Women’s Philharmonic (San Francisco), among others. Her many awards include a 2018 Sally Award from the Ordway, fellowships from the McKnight and Bush Foundations, numerous grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, a Sorel Organization Medallion (NYC), First Prize in the Hebei Professional Young Music Performers Competition, an International Art Cup (Beijing), and many others. In 2017 she became the first Chinese musician to play the national anthem at a Minnesota Timberwolves basketball game at Target Center in Minneapolis.

As a composer, Gao has received commissions from the American Composers Forum, Walker Art Center, the Jerome Foundation, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Kenwood Orchestra, the Minnesota Sinfonia, Zeitgeist, Ragamala Dance Theater, Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, Danish guitarist Lars Hannibal, Theater Mu, IFTPA, and Twin Cities Public Television. Her composition for solo pipa, “Flying Dragon”, won the 2012 Global Music Award – Award of Excellence Solo Instrumental (Gold Medal). She is also a member of the American Composers Forum Board of Directors.

Gao Hong teaches Chinese musical instruments and directs the Carleton Chinese Music Ensemble and the Global Music Ensemble at Carleton College in Minnesota. She is a Guest Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music, China Conservatory of Music, Tianjin Conservatory of Music, and Hebei Provincial School for the Arts in China. She is a member of the Board of Directors for the American Composers Forum and Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, a Voting Member for the Recording Academy (Grammys), and author of the Hal Leonard Pipa Method Book.