Interview with Gabi Barani, Section Percussion of the DunShan Symphonic Wind Orchestra (China)

Romanian percussionist, Gabi Barani, has been playing in orchestras all over the world for the past decade. He recently joined the Dunshan Symphonic Wind Orchestra as a section percussionist in the fall of 2016. We talked about his experiences playing in different countries, audition experience, and about his first month in China.

What were you doing before you decided to move to China?

While I was at University of Transylvania in Romania (2001-2006), I was also a member of the Brasov Philharmonic Orchestra. After that, I joined the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra (2007-2013) as a section percussionist, and held that position for 6 years. At that time I felt it was the appropriate moment to continue my education, so I went to study for my Masters in Percussion Performance with Prof. Gray Barrier and Prof. Jim White at the University of Northern Colorado. Soon after graduation I heard of the Dunshan Symphonic Wind Orchestra through a friend, and found that they had an upcoming audition, so I decided to take it!

What was the audition like?

The first part of the process was a very intense videoed audition. It was about 25 minutes of playing, and constantly jumped from instrument to instrument. The repertoire ranged from Beethoven to Star Wars on timpani, typical orchestral excerpts such as Scherezahde and Delecluse No. 9, as well as newer wind orchestra pieces.

After sending in the video I received an invitation for a trial concert. I was there for 2 weeks in September and was offered the job. Then, one month later I was back in China as a member of the DSWO.

Was this your first time in China?

No. In 2015, I toured China with the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra. It was incredible to see these massive concert halls in every city. It seems that China is very supportive of its orchestras.

What is it like playing in a professional wind orchestra?

The Dunshan Symphonic Wind Orchestra is the first professional wind group that I’ve ever played in. The biggest challenge is that the repertoire is very new. The orchestra itself plays at a very high level though. There are members from some of the top conservatories in the world such as Eastman, Curtis, Paris Conservatory, and Jacobs School of Music.

One of the most interesting things about this orchestra is that the percussionists play ALL of the instruments. There is a principal percussionist, but everyone is going to play some timpani, mallets, snare, cymbals etc…     

What language are rehearsals in?

We have a Swiss conductor, Adrian Schneider, who has been living in China for quite a few years, so he is very comfortable doing rehearsals in Chinese. When he is speaking to the foreigners in the orchestra he will speak English to us, but I will definitely need to start working on my Chinese!

What was your transition like moving from home to China?

Well, after I won the position in September, I went home for a month and started to get the documents together. Once I got to China things were relatively easy. The orchestra did a really good job of taking care of all of the important documents. When you move to a new country it is very important that all of the VISA documents are taken care of by the organization, because it will be very difficult for you to do it on your own.

WeChat is the thing here.

I did need to get some help a few days in getting a SIM card on my phone, and establish a new bank account. I grabbed one of the members of the orchestra and he helped me in about half an hour to set up my phone.  Chinese is great with Wi-Fi, but as soon as you walk out on the street and don’t have the WeChat app you are lost. WeChat is the thing here!

 How are you doing with Chinese food?

Because my orchestra played concerts all over China during my first month, within the first few weeks I have already been to so many places. I have had extreme spicy Hot Pot in the South, sweeter food in Xiamen and all sorts of different foods in the North. But of course, hanging with the other foreigners in the orchestra we will go to some more western restaurants.

 Is there anything you wished you had known before you moved to China?

I already knew about having a VPN before coming here, so I was okay on that respect. Also, I had spent a little time in Beijing before, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. The one thing that I do wish I had were my method books! For sure my next trip back home I will bring back a bunch of method and expert books.

Also, I miss a lot my wife and my son. Moving to China is our first experience being apart.

With being in China for such a short time, what is your immediate impression of the country?

China is HUGE!!! I’ve been to Shanghai and Beijing before, so I knew those places. But then I went to other cities recently like Chengdu, Chongqing, and Shenzhen and couldn’t believe the size of these places. The infrastructure is incredible here. In fact, on a train trip recently I overheard some Americans who were saying that they wanted trains like this back home.

by Chris Tusa, 1/3/2017