World music artists Gao Hong & Issam Rafea celebrate release of new CD recording

23 April 2018

Renowned musicians Gao Hong and Issam Rafea will celebrate the release of their new CD recording on Saturday, April 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the Kracum Performance Hall of the Weitz Center for Creativity at Carleton College. “Life As Is: The Blending of Ancient Souls from Syria and China” beautifully captures the musical bond shared by the two artists. This concert is free and open to the public.

The two renowned musicians, one hailing from China and the other from Syria, first came together in the spring of 2017 when Issam Rafea was an artist-in-residence at Carleton, where Gao Hong leads the college’s esteemed Chinese Music Ensemble and Global Music Chamber Ensemble. Gao had invited Rafea to teach her students about Arabic music, and at the end of the term, she suggested that they go into a studio to record some improvisations just for fun. To their surprise and delight, the two immediately bonded and their improvisations were so cohesive and alive that it seemed as if they had worked together for years, if not lifetimes.

Issam Rafea is a master of the Oud, the Arabic lute, and Gao Hong is a master Pipa play, the Chinese pear-shaped lute. Both prolific composers and performers, they also share a love of improvisation and belief that music comes from their souls and deepest feelings. This is the inspiration for the title of their CD release (now available on Innova Recordings), “Life As Is: The Blending of Ancient Souls from Syria and China.”

Gao Hong, a renowned Chinese pipa player and composer, graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing where she studied with pipa master Lin Shicheng. She has received numerous awards and honors at home and abroad. In 2005, Gao Hong became the first traditional musician to be awarded the prestigious Bush Artist Fellowship, and in 2012 she became the only musician in any genre to win four McKnight Artist Fellowships for Performing Musicians. She has received numerous commissions and has performed countless U.S. and world premieres of pipa concerti with organizations such as the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Heidelberg Philharmonic, Buenos Aires Philharmonic, and many others. She is a Guest Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and the Tianjin Conservatory of Music in China. More at

One of Syria’s elite musicians, world-class Oud virtuoso and composer Issam Rafea is a refugee now establishing himself as a professional musician and educator in the United States. He has a passion for infusing traditional Arab and Middle Eastern music with new compositional ideals and instrumentation. Winner of the 2010 Best Composer Award in the Dubai International Film Festival (Muhr Arab) for the film “September Rain,” Rafea was chair of the Arabic Music Department at the High Institute of Music in Damascus and the principal conductor of the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music. In Syria, he was an active composer and arranger for TV and theatre. His performances have taken him to prestigious concert halls in France, Spain, Morocco, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Kuwait and Syria. Among his groundbreaking musical collaborations, Rafea and the Syrian National Orchestra for Arab Music contributed to the British band Gorillaz’ song, “White Flag,” on their 2010 album, “Plastic Beach.”

This event is sponsored by the Carleton College Department of Music, the Office of the Director of the Arts, the Department of Middle Eastern Languages, and Cross-Cultural Studies. For more information, including disability accommodations, call (507) 222-4475. Kracum Performance Hall is located in the Weitz Center for Creativity, Third and College Streets, in Northfield.

Posted In