In October 2011 Gareth Bonello travelled to the city of Chengdu, China to take up a 6 week artistic residency with the Chengdu Associated Theatre of Performing Arts. The residency was part of the ‘Musicians in Residence – China’ project organised by The British Council and PRSF. Gareth used the opportunity to explore Chinese folk music and literature and to collaborate with local traditional musicians.
Upon his return to the UK Gareth continued to work on the project collaborating with composer Seb Goldfinch, The Mavron String Quartet, and members of the UK Chinese Ensemble to record Y Bardd Anfarwol. The album tells the life story of the Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai and brings together elements of Welsh and Chinese folk music.
The album begins with the poet leaving home as a young man to search for a Taoist master in the mountains. It moves through his days of traveling along the great rivers of China in search of patronage as a court poet, and deals with the loneliness and loss that he feels having left his wife and children behind.
We drink with him beneath a shower of peach blossom, and share in his awe at the beauty of the moon; an ever present theme in his poetry. We follow his footsteps through vast mountainous landscapes, hear the dawn cry of the gibbon and see the white glory of the waterfall at Lou Mountain as it cascades three thousand feet into the misty valley below.
We follow his disastrous career as a military strategist, a path that leads to exile and a journey to the edge of the known world. As time weaves threads of white into his hair we share his incredulity and ultimate acceptance of ageing. Finally, we bear witness to the poet god’s last moments; a spectacular death by drowning in an attempt to embrace the moon reflected in the water (or so the legend goes).
I hope that this album can capture a part of the serene beauty of Li Bai’s poetry. If you already know his poetry I hope this sends you back to read anew. If his words are new to you I hope this album will urge you to seek him out, as he once sought an old hermit in the Taitien Mountains.