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Prof. John Winzenburg

B.A. (Hamline), M.M. (Minnesota), DMA (Iowa)

Professor, Department of Music


  • GRF 2013/14 - $212,560


  • This is the first study to analyze the rapidly growing genre of “fusion concertos” for Western orchestra and Chinese solo instrument as an embodiment of hybridization in China’s new national music. The rapid development of over 500 concertos is indicative of parallel developments in other areas of Chinese society as it undergoes large-scale transformation, which necessitates close consideration of several vital issues: What cultural and artistic forms exemplify this transformation? How are they to be explained politically, historically, and theoretically? And how have they begun to influence global developments? This study demonstrates how Chinese-Western fusion concertos simultaneously 1) reflect a new development in hybrid artistic genres, 2) incorporate considerations of artistic hybridization and postcolonial, ideological hybridity under the wider rubric of hybridization, and 3) present national signifiers to Chinese and global audiences within a hybrid musical genre.


  • This project analyzes the emergence of a new international orchestral genre shaped by Chinese culture, called the “fusion concerto,” for Western orchestra and Chinese solo instrument.  The research will be focused on the nature of the genre in terms of Chinese-Western hybridization and signifiers of national traditions.  These concertos reflect important cultural-historical trends in modern Chinese society now having an impact outside of China, and they present striking new developments to the scholar of musical genres by combining symbolic aural and visual images of the “traditional” Chinese solo instrument alongside the Western orchestra.  The study of musical hybridity that results must focus not only on East-West/colonial-postcolonial power relations and the discourse of cultural identity, but also on individual artistic creative processes.
    The body of over 500 concertos dates back to the 1930s.    I will consider approximately forty of these works as I address four main issues: 1) how and why composers create hybrid genres, how audiences receive fusion concertos, and how we interpret the works as national signifiers; 2) how specific aesthetics of musical hybridization apply to generic expectations and how cultural dialogue shapes the new genre; 3) how important distinctions between aesthetic and ideological approaches in the hybrid discourse cast fusion concertos at the intersection of new crossover musical genres and postcolonial politics;  4) how the composition, reception, and cultural/aesthetic justifications  of fusion concertos before 1949 compare musically, politically, and culturally to works written since 1980.
    This is the first study to analyze the fusion concerto repertoire as an embodiment of hybridization in China’s new national music. It explores theoretical, aesthetic, and ethnographic concepts of hybrid forms, cultural identity, and global consumption that dominate contemporary cultural discourse in areas experiencing East-West crossover. The methodology includes musical score-recording collection and comprehensive database compilation that will index by category these key contexts.  I then analyze smaller groups of works in writing individual journal articles, assessing a deeper level of interaction between genres, hybridization, audience reception, and national signification in contemporary Chinese composition.
    In view of the presence of musical and national symbols, the new genre represents a tangible marker of Chinese-global cultural patterns.  Most importantly, this study will have value for understanding the rapidly changing cultural profile of Hong Kong, which has been a center for fusion concerto composition and performance.  It, therefore, makes a significant contribution to the areas of cultural hybridity, ethnomusicology, and contemporary Hong Kong-China studies.


  • The project involves a combination of 1) historical and theoretical research, 2) collection of scores, recordings, and performance information, and 3) musical analysis and interpretation:

    1.    Literature and Theory

    I consult Chinese and English literary sources for background, reception, and interpretation:
    a.    writings on genre, hybridization, hybridity, and nationalism
    b.    writings on symphonic development in China and the West
    c.    writings on related Chinese musical genres
    d.    reviews of individual concerts, recordings, and books
    e.    writings on Chinese music history and pre-1949 Shanghai
    f.    biographies and critical assessments of composers and their works
    g.    writings on contemporary music trends
    h.    CD and DVD liner notes
    i.    writings on Chinese and global social, political, and cultural trends

    2.    Scores, Recordings, and Performance Information Collection
    I solicit scores, recordings, and performance information on the relevant works from a variety of sources:
    a.    libraries and archives
    b.    music stores and book stores
    c.    composers, conductors, performers, scholars

    3.    Music Analysis &   Interpretation
    I analyze a selected body of concertos in relation to the individual articles as listed above in order to assess the fusion concerto repertoire in a variety of contexts:
    a.    genre
    b.    hybridization and hybridity
    c.    agency and Chinese national music
    d.    global/commercial consumption
    e.    musical composition

    The outcome of the research has led to a series of journal articles and book chapters that interpret my findings in relation to genre, hybridization, hybridity, national signifiers, and audience reception.

Interdisciplinary expertise

  • This is foremost a musicological study. However, it combines disciplines of modern Chinese history, cross-cultural genres, literary theory, composition, and performance practice.

Research outcome

  • The major research findings of this project involve five areas relating to genre, hybridity, and fusion concertos: 1) compositional features - having indexed the earliest fusion concertos and categorized their novel approaches; 2) political-aesthetic discourse and experimental compositions - having contextualized the compositions within the historical backdrop of twentieth-century China, especially 1930s Shanghai, and the pursuit of musical modernization; 3) vocal-instrumental interaction – having discovered and analyzed Chinese vocal styles used as source materials for early fusion concerto experimentation; 4) trends in new Chinese national music and new global concert music - having described how contemporary trends in national identity relate back to early twentieth-century movements and outward toward current global
    interaction; 5) concepts of genre and hybridization - having closely analyzed and described theories originally applied to literary genres and adapting them interactive musical languages.

    I have applied my findings from the current research project in the publication of two book chapters: “Musical-Dramatic Experimentation in the Yangbanxi: A Case for Precedence in The Great Wall,” in Listening to China’s Cultural Revolution: Music, Politics, and Cultural Communities, edited by Paul Clark, Pang Laikwan, and Tsai Tsan-Huang. London: Palgrave MacMillan (November 2015), pp. 189-212; and “Spanning the Timbral Divide: Tradition, Multiplicity, and Novelty in Chinese-Western Fusion Concerto Instrumentation,” in China and the West: Representation, Reception, and Reception, edited by Hon-Lun Yang and Michael Saffle, University of Michigan Press. (March 2017), pp. 186-204. I have also applied them in a major journal article “A New Multivoiced World: Bakhtinian Polyphony and the First Chinese-Western Fusion Concerto,” in the Journal of Musicological Research 37/3 (2018), pp. 209-238.

    Further application of findings has been made in “Stylistic Development and Hybrid Genres in Chinese Choral Music” presented at the American Choral Directors Association National Conference (2015) and in “Fu Lei and the ‘Grand Chinese Evening’: Intransigence and Boundless Hope for China’s Musical Future” presented at the CHIME international conference in Geneva (2015), as well as at invited presentations at the Graduate Institute of Musicology at National Taiwan University (2014), the international symposium “Fu Lei and His World” at the Fu Lei Research Center in Shanghai (2016), and at the 10th World Symposium on Choral Music in Seoul (2014).  The research has informed my own performance of new Chinese-Western works, such as the newly commissioned, semi-staged cantata “Hong Kong Odyssey” at the 2017 Hong Kong Arts Festival, on RTHK Radio 4 (2016), and BBC Radio 3 "In Tune" (2016).