Piano and erhu duo make contemporary music

A musical duo from UBC is bringing a contemporary spin to the classic combination of piano and erhu, a Chinese stringed instrument.

Corey Hamm and Nicole Ge Li are taking their music on tour in China

Nicole Gu Li (left) and Corey Hamm play contemporary music on the erhu and piano, and plan to take their duo on tour in China, in May. (Piano and Erhu Project/Facebook)

A music duo from UBC is putting a contemporary spin on the classic combination of piano and erhu, a Chinese stringed instrument.

Pianist Corey Hamm and erhu-player Nicole Ge Li met four years ago and formed The Piano and Erhu Project.

They asked local composers to write a few songs for them, but they were surprised at the overwhelming response. Composers wrote over 50 pieces for the duo.

That inspired the musical team to go on tour  — they head to China in May.

"We thought we would explore more music just for erhu and piano, and there was lots of music for it of course, but there weren't that many pieces exploring all the possibilities of contemporary styles. So we thought, that's a hole that we could maybe fill," said Hamm, a piano professor at UBC.

The duo are known for intertwining eastern and western influences into their performances.

A new take on a classic combo

The erhu, a two-stringed classical Chinese instrument, makes a unique sound that Li described as being "like a human voice, singing."

Piano and erhu performances are already popular in China, but Li, who started playing the erhu at six-years old, says a contemporary take will be new to audience there.

"They just don't have quite so many musical styles as us," she said.

"I think the audience in China will also be really interested in this combination."

Hamm said composers have been open to the idea of mixing styles.

"I've been surprised. Some Western composers have been trying to write in a Chinese [style]… and some Chinese composers have been trying to avoid writing like that and sort of writing in a more avant-garde style if you could say."

Hamm and Li have released two CD's and said they plan to make at least two, if not more, albums.

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