A journal,
by English composer and gardener
David Hellewell,
of his visit to Peking, China for a festival of his music
from 3 to 15 September 1990
at the invitation of the Peking Conservatory of Music
and the Peking Central Radio Broadcasting
Symphony Orchestra

Monday 3rd September

Arrival. 11.45 am at Peking Airport accompanied by 22-year old violinist Yang Min (In China the family name comes first). Raining, but warm. Enthusiastic, warm reception by some of the people who, up until now, have been just names, but who were to become, in the next two weeks, valued friends and colleagues:

Liu Hong. Yang Min's mother (wives retain their maiden names). Composer and Director of Peking Opera, and the main, tireless and efficient organiser of my artistic, cultural and practical affairs both during, and before, my visit. Unfortunately speaks no English.

Yang Zheng. Yang Min's younger sister. A brilliant pianist at the Central Conservatory of Music (C.C.M.) and performer and teacher of my music here. She is the soloist in my Micro-Concerto and Rhapsody, and has coached and taught many of the young pianists who will perform in my Master Classes and concerts. She will become a very close friend - almost a 'daughter' - over the next two weeks. Speaks a fair amount of English.

Yang Yong. Father. Not a musician, but an official involved with cultural affairs attached to the army, and a poet. (The Yang family live in a flat, in an army area, where foreigners are not allowed, therefore I am unable to visit them at home). He will become my personal, and very friendly, helper in organising and implementing my cultural and sight-seeing visits. Speaks only a very little English.

Sun Ling Guang . Public Relations Director of the C.C.M. He is also an efficient and very likable (a bit of a 'wag') liaison man and organiser for my Conservatory activities and classes.

Zheng Quan. Professor of Violin Making (Yes!) at the C.C.M., and a close friend of Yang Min and family. On our first play together I commented on Yang Min's violin's robust and rich tone, and was surprised to learn that it was a modern Chinese instrument made by Zheng Quan. He has won many awards internationally, and he too has been involved in the organisational details of my visit. He speaks a fair amount of English.

Liu Jun. Vice-Director and principal bassoon of the Central Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra (C.B.S.O.). This is the orchestra I shall conduct for the performance of my orchestral works at the main concert on September 10th. Liu Jun is Yang Min's uncle, and was also instrumental in organising the orchestral co-ordination, and for my official invitation to Peking on behalf of the C.B.S.O. He doesn't speak English.

Duan Wu Yi. A Director of the Musicians Union.

My arrival was telerecorded for future transmission and documentary. I was interviewed (Yang Min translating) by Peking Radio Broadcasting Station,which had already been broadcasting my music prior to my visit. There was great excitement for Yang Min at her reunion with family and friends after 8 months away in England. She acts as my indefatigable interpreter, assistant and adviser throughout (and before) my visit. I don't speak a word of Chinese, and have enough difficulties remembering and pronouncing the names of people!

I was then driven (a car was laid on for every occasion, waiting for me as long as necessary; and no compulsory seat belts - what a joy!) to my hotel - the Xin Xing. This is a modern 12-storey Chinese hotel, where I am the only foreigner! Only a smattering of English is spoken by a few of the staff, and there were to be some problems in the future because of this - but I prefer it to the new, up-market (and more expensive!) Western-oriented hotels now opening. The room (12th floor) was basic and comfortable. There is no room key - there are staff on each floor to look after your needs, 24 hours a day. And no exaggerated and repressive fire and safety regulations as in England, so one could open doors and windows and avoid being crushed or stifled!

pm Dinner (5.30pm - the norm). The 'Seafood' Restaurant

With the same people who met me at the airport - plus grandma Liu: already a warm family feeling! Excellent meal. Some dozen varied dishes, including real 'Peking Duck' (dipped in sauce , and eaten in a pancake with spring onion). Tried chopsticks - tricky!

Tuesday 4th

Breakfast (in room). 'English': Glass of milk (powdered, hot, sweet); 3 fried eggs on toast (no butter); black coffee (no milk or sugar). Ordered 8.30, arrived 8.50! Large hot-water thermos (non-electric) and China tea bags always in room, and available everywhere - in Conservatory, at rehearsals, classes, restaurants, offices, etc., also carried around by people.

am Tiananmen Square With Yang Min, Yang Yong, Zheng Quan and TV crew.

Massive, monumental space (800 x 500 meters) - as befits the centre of a great civilisation. Flanked by The Forbidden City, The Tiananmen Rostrum, Chairman Mao Memorial Hall and the Great Hall of The People, with the Monument to the People's Heroes in the centre. The thought crossed my mind of composing a 'Tiananmen' Symphony - large-scale, intricate, non-political - to celebrate my visit and this mighty culture.

The Forbidden City - TV crew not allowed in.

Very exciting for me to 'feel' the live essence of this ancient culture in which I have long been fascinated, and which I have studied. I am particularly interested in the spatial layout and gardens: each rock, tree or plant has its place and meaning (as in my own garden) - compartmental 'cell's, ancient, twisted trees. Much on which to contemplate and 'gather' into my aesthetic memory.

pm Dinner 'North Sea' (ie..... lake) Restaurant, in the Forbidden City.

At the invitation of the Director of the C.C.M. Yu Run Yang (who had also been responsible for my official invitation to Peking on the behalf of the Conservatory). Present were: Yu Run Yang . Bai Yu Professor of Orchestral Studies; Mu Hong Professor of Composition; Liu Lin Vice-Director of the C.C.M. and Professor of Composition; Jin Ai Ping Professor of Piano. Head of C.C.M. Middle School; Sun Ling Guang; Zheng Quan; Yang Min; Yang Zheng and Liu Hong.

Another excellent meal, and yet more varieties of dishes. Shop talk: music, the Conservatory. Very friendly. Afterwards, Lantern Festival by the lake. Tableaux of traditional theatre: crowds, dragons, fireworks.

Wednesday 5th

am. Central Conservatory of Music

Piano lesson with Yang Zheng and exceptional 6-year-old girl pupil Hua Hui playing three "Mister D" pieces - good rhythm, well taught. Mrs. Hui presented me with a miniature cloisonne sword, together with two books by Mr Hui of the Research Dept. General Logistics. (Some of the many presents I was to receive). Run through of the piano parts of the Micro-Concerto and Rhapsody with Yang Zheng - an excellent player.

ev. Dinner at the home of Yang Min's uncle Liu Qi (Director: Central Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, leading bassoonist and composer). Liu and Yang families. Another excellent meal , cooked by Mrs. Liu (Cu Ya Feng - actress). Liu Qi presented me with a score of his music.

Thursday 6th

Ensemble Rehearsals C.C.M. TV crew present.

Space/Time Phantasia (vl, cl, cello & pno), and Trio Monumentale (vl, cello & pno). Excellent. young ensembles for these very difficult works. Usual (with my music) problems with the complex rhythms and multi-dimensional elements ranging from Rock and Jazz to post-Webern abstraction, but they are quickly adapting - brilliant classical techniques. Still more work to be done on the pieces, so other sessions arranged.

ev. Chinese diet beginning to tell: diarrhoea! Would love some plain meat, potatoes, bread, butter, milk, cheese!

Friday 7th

am. 'Guidance' Lecture C.C.M. Composers and professors. TV present.

Started by demonstrating, on tape, my earlier abstract, avant garde music, and then moved on to my "Mister D" music. This, I explained, was a name I coined in the 1970s for the multi-idiomatic, cross-cultural (and popular!) music I was then creating (on the side, as it were), in complete contrast to the high-tech complexities of my 'official' avant garde compositions.

From this, I went on to explain my defection, by 1980, from the avant garde, my founding of the "Mister D" Music Academy in 1982, and then to my present 'multi-dimensional' musical language. I was assisted in all this by Yang Zheng, as interpreter, and at the piano, but when I began to get into rather difficult technical areas, with such terms as 'intervallic motives', 'post-Webern fragmentation', 'Blues scales' and 'pentatonic modes", Yang Zheng became overloaded for translation!

Fortunately, there was, in the audience, a Professor Yang Yu Huai (Professor of Harmony and Counterpoint), who had a masterly technical and intellectual command of English, and through him I was able to continue through the whole range of my techniques and influences. I also showed projection slides of my garden, this being a visual manifestation of my music, and my prime aesthetic link with the Chinese culture.

The lecture was very well received, and what a joy it was to find such admiration and enthusiasm for my music (which had already been broadcast, together with articles and publicity, prior to my visit). This admiration was to continue throughout my visit, from all quarters -students, orchestral musicians, teachers, professors and public.

pm Orchestral Rehearsal C.B.S.O. Micro-Concerto and Rhapsody. TV present.

Usual problems with my rhythms, but orchestra very responsive and friendly. Strings very good. The Micro-Concerto, though technically the easiest, is the trickiest, because of the jazz elements and rhythms. Will need more rehearsal. Liu Jun is rushing around seeing that everything and everyone is in order. Yang Min acts as translator. Yang Zheng knows her part thoroughly, by heart - a great help.

ev Hotel Diarrhoea abating, after Chinese pills and only a little Chinese food for lunch. Had bread and plain meat sandwich and instant coffee, brought by Yang Min. Great! But generally now off food. Watched TV. Much of it propaganda (success of economic zones, shots of workers in factories, farms, laboratories, etc. and interviews) - but so is Western TV - for commercialism! Channels also for: Chinese 'Soaps'; Traditional Opera (called Provincial Opera); Western movies; light entertainment. No sex and violence. But, surprise,surprise: commercials on all channels!

Saturday 8th

Rehearsal C.B.S.O. am Trumpet Concerto Quite good. (Pieces had been rehearsed prior to my coming). Soloist Guang Hung good, but unused to unusual jazz rhythms and laid-back phrasing.

Lunch Brought to hotel. Beef, bread and butter, and strawberry jam! Trying to get my stomach in order. pm Rehearsal

Micro- Concerto (still difficult); Rhapsody; Trumpet Concerto. ev Dinner Liu Jun and orchestra leaders.

Present: Liu Jun; Wu Yang (Concert leader); He Cheng (Principal flute); Shi Shu Cheng (Conductor); and Yang family. Another excellent meal, but a struggle for me! Yang Zheng wants to start a "Mister D" Music Academy in Peking.

Rehearsal Phantasia. Good.

Sunday 9th

am Rehearsal Trio. Not good. Pianist has difficulties.

pm Concert China World Hotel C.B.S.O. Conducted by Shi Shu Cheng.

Performance of my three concerti, together with a Mozart overture, Suppe's "Light Cavalry", Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony, "Cavalleria Rusticana" and the Strauss "Radetzky" March, in the huge lobby of this new international hotel. Mr Shi had rehearsed my works with the orchestra prior to my visit, and also coached Yang Zheng on the piano parts. He is a leading Chinese conductor, and an excellent interpreter of my music. He intends to introduce my music to other parts of China, and particularly to Shanghai, where there is a comparable Conservatory of Music. This concert served as an extra rehearsal for the forthcoming concert on Monday.

The Swiss manager of the hotel, Herr Knuchel, was delighted with the event, and was keen to have more. Many of the C.C.M. students (especially pianists) play in hotels, as a means of earning (a little) extra money, and to gain experience.

Monday 10th

am Full concert rehearsal, also recorded by Peking Radio Broadcasting Station.

Micro-Concerto Pno & Orch. Rhapsody Pno & Orch. Trumpet Concerto Tpt & Orch. Trio Monumentale Pno trio. Space/Time Phantasia Quartet. Spring Sonata vln & pno - at last Yang Min and I play together! - although we had already rehearsed and performed the work in England.

Still some problems (especially with the Micro-Concerto), and not least, for me, the unbearable heat; but overall, good.

pm Concert Central Music Hall. Recorded and transmitted live by Peking Television.

Autographing and sale, prior to the performance, of a special "Mister D" music album and cassette, published by the Chinese to coincide with this performance. Very good response and enthusiasm. Full house, standing room only! Apparently, the best attended concert for quite a while.

Rapturous reception at the end of the concert. Copious flower bouquets, and joined on the platform by music dignatories and officials. A tremendous success. All my new friends there with their congratulations.

Tuesday 11th

am Meeting/Discussion C.C.M. Professors and students. TV present.

Professors included: Wang Zhen-Ya - eminent composer and Berg specialist; Zhong Zi-Lin -Musicology, and a former visiting professor in the USA; Zhao Feng - Pres. Emeritus C.C.M. and Vice-Chairman, Committee of Arts, Ministry of Culture; and Yang Yu Huai - Harmony and

Counterpoint, and my indispensable translator. Also present were Duan Wu Yi (Musician's Union), Yang Min , Yang Zheng and students, including one from their Electronic Music Studio. Once again, a lively, intellectual discussion.

pm Piano Master Class C.C.M.

Students played through for me the "Mister D" pieces they had been preparing for the next day's Student Concert, and including some of the more complex ones. Very good musicians, with excellent techniques. They quickly and enthusiastically responded to the new rhythms and idioms in my music when pointed out - tricky to teach the 'feel' of jazz and rock : senza espress. seemed to do the trick -the expression is built into the rhythm of the music.

Wednesday 12th

am Piano & Ensemble Class C.C.M.

For the Student Concert. Ensembles of fl, cl, vl, vlc, cbs, pno & perc. The Plastic Cakewalk - at first too dainty and classical, but I soon 'beefed' them up for a bright, rhythmic performance. El Silabador - a Latin-American 'Baion' style of piece. Percussionists hadn't played L-A rhythms before, but they quickly caught on. Rock Sonata No 4 (solo piano) - a substantial 20-minute work encompassing a very wide range of idioms. The young girl who performed it obviously enjoyed the challenge it presented, and surmounted the technical difficulties with gusto. She only needed to be coached on the idiomatic, interpretive details.

pm Student Concert C.C.M. Pianists and Ensembles. Telerecorded.

Programme: Piano: Hard Work 4 2; Little Blue Cha Cha; Plastic Cakewalk; Kentucky Rag; Rock Fantasy; Roller Rock; Chicken-Pickin' Rag; Rock Sonata No 4. Ensemble: Plastic Cakewalk; El Silbador. I played "Skygirl" and Crazy Calypso.

Good concert. All played well.

Thursday 13th.

Summer Palace

Escorted there by Yang Yong. This was a visit I had been eagerly awaiting. Wonderful! A supreme and most magnificent expression of the Chinese art of landscape gardening. 290 hectares of landscaping, palaces, lakes and temples, and housing superb porcelain, bronzes, sculpture, clothes, paintings and works of art. Once again: superb spatiality coupled with exquisite detail. Too much to describe. Stunned, for example, by the tranquil beauty of a small rock-edged pond containing nothing but large blue-green, rhubard-type leaves in duckweed-covered, still water. I only realised later that these were lotus!

Returned later in the week, on my own, for another shot of this aesthetic nourishment.

Friday 14th.

Peking Radio Broadcasting Station

Recording by Yang Min of the "Peking" Sonata for solo violin, which I wrote for her in England in order to celebrate our meeting, my visit and her wonderful playing. Her playing of this virtuoso work, in my garden in England, is a focal point of a video and TV documentary, now in production in England, on myself, my music and garden. Most of the English footage has been taken, and the Peking material will be added to this.

Unfortunately, there has been little time for Yang Min to practise the work, or for us to get together to iron out the technical problems, so we are unable to complete the recording at this time; it will be done later in England.

Saturday 15th

The last day

am Visit to Buddhist Temple Yong Ye Gong. Another aesthetic feast!

pm Dinner Xin Xing Hotel. At my invitation Present: Yu Run Yang; Liu Lin; Sun Ling Guang; Zheng Quan; Zhao Feng; Liu Hong; Yang Min; Yang Zheng.

By now, these people, who, two weeks ago were strangers, are friends and colleagues. I felt I had become virtually part of a family. Indeed, this whole circle of musicians - performers, students, teachers, professors, officials - seem to have an almost familial relationship right across the generations. This is not surprising really: the older musicians, professors and teachers are often the teachers of the middle generation of teachers; and their pupils, in their turn, become the next generation of teachers. (Though students are admitted to the Conservatory from the whole of China).

Later I was taken to the airport (40 minutes drive), and seen off by the same people who had welcomed me on my arrival. Yang Min would be staying for another week, before returning to England to take up her post-graduate scholarship at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, and to pursue her career as a soloist. Meanwhile my close links with these friendly people are not severed: my vision of composing a 'Tiananmen' Symphony is to be a reality - they have asked me to compose the work for a premiere in Peking in October 1992. It will be for Orchestra; Violin (Yang Min); Bassoon (Liu Qi); Piano (Yang Zheng) and Chorus, and conducted by Shi Shu Cheng. I shall look forward to this event, and our reunion, with great pleasure.