Music Professor Recognized by Record Label

Yara Askar
Oct. 30, 2013

A major international label has featured the work of Hong-Mei Xiao, a renowned UA associate professor of music, in a new recording of works by the late Swiss-American composer Ernest Bloch.

UA faculty member Hong-Mei Xiao is a highly regarded violinist, having been named the first-prize winner of the 1987 Geneva International Music Competition and, more recently, the Patek Philippe Grand Prize. Also, Xiao has collaborated with other famed composers including Yo-Yo Ma and Joseph Silverstein. (Photo courtesy of Xiao)

The newly released recording, "Bloch: Suite For Viola | Baal Shem | Suite Hebraique," exemplifies the essence of the 20th-century neoclassical composer's work. Released by Naxos, a global award-winning record label, the album marks an important contemporary surge in the interest of Bloch's work in the years following the 50th anniversary of his death in the United States in 1950.

Since the release, the album and Xiao's performance have received international critical acclaim.

And there is another interesting UA connection to Bloch: The famed photographer Ansel Adams, whose archives are housed at the UA's Center for Creative Photography, worked to ensure that the renowned UA center would eventually house more than 6,000 negatives of photography that Bloch took over the course of his life.

Xiao invested months transcribing and reinterpreting Bloch's music. The new album includes three pieces of Bloch's work, "The Baal Shem Suite," "Suite for Viola and Orchestra" and "Suite Hebraique." Xiao transcribed the first piece, which Bloch originally wrote for the violin, to viola. The album was recorded with one of the Europe's premiere orchestras, the Budapest Symphony.

"I aspired to record this CD because I love Ernest Bloch's uniquely authentic musical language," said Xiao, who has toured throughout Europe, North America and Asia. "It's highly emotional and peculiarly personal intensity of expression and distinct Hebraic quality profoundly moves me."

In preparation for the CD project, Xiao contacted Bloch's grandson, Ernie Bloch. After Ernie Bloch heard Xiao's transcription of his grandfather's work, he thought it was very well done and that he personally enjoyed the viola version of the "Baal Shem Suite" more than the violin version.

"It's really great at any time a musician wants to perform my grandfather's music," Ernie Bloch said. "Her recording speaks very well of the energy, the power and the depth that I believe my grandfather would have been pleased with."

When working with such piece, Xiao said she sees herself as an interpreter for her audience.

"I transcribed this work for viola because I am deeply drawn to the spiritually reflective and musically uplifting quality of this reverent work," Xiao said.

And while the piece was technically more challenging to play on viola, Xiao said "the piece suits the viola beautifully."

Xiao, who was born and raised in China, emphasized the importance of music as a transcendent, universal language, one that is capable of evoking the expansive range of human emotions.

"The expressiveness of music and the emotions that it conveys go beyond what a typical language can do," Xiao said.

"I try to interpret the ideas of composers at the same time I want to inspire my audience with my own unique musicality and artistic expressions that originate from my deep emotional connections to the music," she said. "It's this uniqueness in artistic style that makes a music performance interesting and exciting. Without this unique style all performers would sound very similar."

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