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University of Tennessee Presents Gao Hong and Issam Rafea Duo

October 7, 2021 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm


Heart To Heart – Live Stream Concert: Gao Hong and Issam Rafea Duo

Host: AAPI committee and Office of Asia Engagement
This event is in partnership with the United States Heartland China Association (USHCA). Light refreshments will be provided.

Date: Thursday, October 7, 2021
Location: Student Union, 272C Ballroom
Time: 3 – 5 pm


Gao Hong and Issam Rafea Duo presents “The Blending of Ancient Souls from Syria and China”

Syrian oud master Issam Rafea and Chinese pipa master Gao Hong perform live compositions and improvisations blending Chinese and Arabic techniques in a performance titled “The Blending of Ancient Souls from Syria and China.” Since they never discuss what they will play in advance, no two performances are ever the same. Each concert is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and audiences witness singular creations that come to life before their very eyes and ears – but are never to be repeated. They bring the instruments together for the kind of compelling duets that earned them two gold medals from the Global Music Awards for their 2020 From Our World to Yours album on the ARC Music label, and two nominations for the 2019 Independent Music Awards for their debut album Life as Is. Songlines called their collaboration “consistently engaging, deeply contemplative, and culturally resonant.” Response from their recent performances at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., included:

“You’ve changed my life, opened my heart and spirit!”

“I really was impressed to feel, listen and watch you two creating something sublime, full of joy and in a profound way, capable of awakening the audience spiritually. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like your music allowed all of us to transcend ourselves and be exceptionally present in those moments of creation.”

“…you two move Kandinsky’s spiritual pyramid upwards…which is the true purpose of all art and artists.”

About the Gao Hong and Issam Rafea Duo

Gao Hong and Issam Rafea Duo

Gao Hong and Issam Rafea Duo

The Duo has performed at the Smithsonian Institution, Lotus Festival (Bloomington, IN), Trinity Center for Urban Life in Philadelphia (for Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture), the Schubert Club (St. Paul), Music in the Chapel Concert Series (Minneapolis), the University of Maryland; Carleton College; St. Olaf College; St Paul College; The Cedar Cultural Center; Inn-Fest; Macalester College, Riverside Concerts in Rochester, Minnesota, and at dozens of other venues throughout Minnesota. They were interviewed and featured on the MPR/NPR radio program All Things Considered; and on WCCO/CBS Radio’ s Steele Talkin’ with host Jearlyn Steele. This newly formed duo was also awarded a 2018 USArtists International Grant from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation in the U.S.

Gao Hong and Issam Rafea met in 2017 at Carleton College while Gao Hong was teaching there and Issam Rafea was a residency artist. They bonded when first met and immediately committed to recording and performing together. Once in the recording studio, they began improvising music that was so cohesive it seemed as if they had worked together for years. Both Issam and Gao Hong are wonderful composers, and this helps each anticipate what the other will do in their live compositions.

Since they only play improvisations, no two performances are ever exactly the same, and the Duo often creates instantaneous site-and audience-specific pieces to describe their immediate feelings and honor their audiences. Their music sounds both ancient and strikingly modern at the same time. It is neither Chinese nor Arabic, but something fresh and new that only they can produce. Both musicians are immigrants as well, and the performances are ones that immigrants from any culture can enjoy and relate to.



October 7, 2021
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm