Growing up as a boy in northwest China one of the only instruments available to aspiring musician George Gao was the erhu.
People in that part of China are poor, Gao explained Tuesday. There were no pianos or violins, just the two-string wood instrument with the horsehair bow that could be purchased for a dollar.
Gao was six when he first picked up the instrument. Thirty-eight years later he's a Gemini-nominated erhu master who has played all over the world.
He performs Friday and Saturday night at the Sagebrush Theatre as part of the Kamloops Symphony's East Meets West concert. The performances begin at 7:30 p.m.
Gao's accomplishments with the erhu are a result of a lifetime's worth of dedication to the instrument. He's a student of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music.
When Gao was a boy, students didn't enrol in the Shanghai Conservatory. They had to compete against each other for placing, he said. But, once accepted, they learned from the best teachers.
"You have the best facilities to practise and learn," he said. "In those days, when you enter the school, your career is set."
His international performing career was launched in 1985 when, in his late teens, he swept the three highest prizes of the Beijing China National Invitational Erhu Competition.
He's gone on to tour Europe, North America and Asia, performing in recitals as a soloist and with orchestras.
Gao has also been featured on the soundtrack for the popular sci-fi TV series Earth: Final Conflict and the Oscar winning short documentary The Blood of Yingzhou District.
For Gao, it's all about the music. And he feels fortunate to have had opportunity to pursue a career doing something he loves.
He said Kamloops audiences will enjoy a culturally enriched and fun concert on Friday and Saturday. Gao's 20-minute set features a piece of music based on a 1,700-year-old score that's been translated by scholars.
"What we're going to hear is exactly the series of notations that was deciphered," he said. "The orchestration is so beautiful. It's like a film score. Very poetic."
Canadian composer An-lun Huang, a personal favourite of Gao's, composed the rhythm for that piece.
Audiences will also hear a mix of Chinese and Canadian orchestral sounds from composers Xuan Dong, Chen Yao Xin and Chan Ka Nin. Gao is certain the entire concert will be a hit.
"Music is a language of the world. They will appreciate it if they appreciate music," he said.
Tickets for East Meets West are available through Kamloops Live! Box Office by phoning 250-374-5483 or visiting kamloopslive.ca.
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