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Pipa Virtuoso Wu Man Debuts a Concerto With the SF Symphony

From San Francisco Classical Voice

By Emily Wilson

Wu Man first performed Lou Harrison’s pipa concerto, written especially for her, in 1997 at Lincoln Center, with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. On Feb. 11 and 12, the internationally recognized master of the pipa will perform the concerto at the San Francisco Symphony for the first time. And on March 30, the San Diego Symphony will present a chamber music concert with Wu Man that will include a traditional Chinese music along with a quintet for flute, pipa, percussion, violin, and cello by Australian composer Ross Edwards.

Wu Man, who was born in Hangzhou, China, began studying the lute-like instrument when she was 9 years old, and at 13, she was accepted at the prestigious Beijing Central Conservatory of Music.

The musician has lived in the U.S. for almost 30 years, and she enjoys bringing Western music to China and introducing people in the United States to Chinese music. She’s played with the Kronos Quartet, toured with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, and performed as a soloist with many major orchestras. She collaborates with modern composers and musicians from different cultures, playing music including jazz and folk, along with classical.

In a video interview from her home in Carlsbad, Wu Man talked about trying to communicate through music, how listening to music from different cultures makes your life better, and how she admires Lou Harrison for taking on writing a concerto for pipa when he was in his 70s. And she wishes everyone a good Year of the Tiger.

Read the full interview.

CRITICAL ACCLAIM

Review: S.F. Symphony mixes East and WEst in a thrilling musical encounter
“If Harrison’s 1997 Concerto for Pipa and String Orchestra proved particularly arresting, that was partially due to the presence of the extraordinary virtuoso Wu Man, for whom the piece was written.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Harrison’s Concerto for Pipa with String Orchestra (1997) dominated the evening. The instrument is most easily described as the Chinese lute, held vertically on the player’s lap with the strings and frets facing outwards. Visually it’s impressive, and — unobtrusively amplified — audibly engaging, too. This, Harrison’s last large-scale composition before his death in 2003, was composed for Wu Man, the dominant pipa virtuoso of her generation. She has premiered hundreds of scores and appears regularly with the Silkroad Ensemble (she was a co-founder), the Kronos and Shanghai Quartets and orchestras worldwide. Harrison’s music is characteristically melodic and attractive, blending easily here with Wu’s rapid-fire arpeggiated plucking and slower single-note melodies from the pipa.”
Financial Times

“In crisply articulated runs, singing vibratos, and one percussive exchange with a cello and bass, in which the performer thumps the body of the instrument and her colleagues thump back, Wu Man made her bravura turn seem fanciful and frictionless. Her fingers flew across the frets, strummed the strings like a gonzo bass guitarist, or set off the rapidly repeated notes of the balalaika.”
Musical America

“The other standout was Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Pipa with String Orchestra, which featured Wu Man, the incomparable pipa virtuoso.”
Seen and Heard International

East-West Fusion at the SF Symphony
“The reverbations from his deeply original work are still being discovered, so it felt momentous to be hearing the SF Symphony debut of his 1997 Concerto for Pipa and String Orchestra performed by Wu Man, for whom it was written.”
SF Civic Center Blog