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Pop goes the pipa

(China Daily)

15:05, March 22, 2013

Wu Man rehearses with a group of aboriginal people for a concert on Saturday in Taiwan. Provided to China Daily

Wu Man is the de facto ambassador of Chinese pipa players, doing all she can to spread the string music. She recently partnered the New York-based orchestral collective The Knights for a concert series spanning 10 US cities. Caroline Berg finds out her motivation.

Chinese pipa player, Wu Man, finds it difficult to say no to performances and projects, because she considers spreading her native land's music and culture as her life's mission.

"I do whatever I can to make the pipa visible on the global stage, be it giving a concert or participating in a collaboration," Wu says. "The work never stops, but it's something I feel I must do."

Most recently, Wu partnered the New York-based orchestral collective The Knights for a concert series spanning 10 US cities, which concluded in California in mid-February.

"The Knights are all my friends, so I can't say no," Wu says after a rehearsal for a performance at the Asia Society in New York.

Apart from their friendship, Wu values the young talent driving The Knights, as well as the group's international spirit, she says.

"It's so much fun to play with someone like Wu Man and bring these two elements of traditional Chinese music and classical Western music together," says Colin Jacobsen, violinist and co-founder of The Knights. "She's created a new repertoire with her pipa that was not present on the music scene before."

The concert series program featured two original Wu compositions, one based on a folk tune by the Li tribe of Southeast China and another inspired by a tune she overheard her 4-year-old son humming.

"The music showcases her personality, and playing it is a very intimate experience," Jacobsen says. "The way Wu Man sings as she bends notes on her pipa is like nothing else."

The tour took the music troupe to a number of universities including the University of Louisville in Kentucky, the University of Texas in Austin and the University of California in Santa Barbara.

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