Chinese born and U.S. based Wu Man has taken the pipa (a traditional Chinese lute) and brought it to concert stages around the world as well as introducing it into Western pop and other music styles. She was cited by the Los Angeles Times as “the artist most responsible for bringing the pipa to the Western World.”
The pipa (pronounced pee pah) is one of China’s oldest instruments. It is over two thousand years old and is a traditional folk instrument. As Man describes in the video below, the instrument is actually from Central Asia and came to China via a Persian on the Silk Road of trade. The instrument gets its name from the plucking techniques and the created sounds: “pi” is the forward playing of strings and “pa” is the backward playing. While it is such an ancient instrument, there was only a limited number of compositions for pipa in existence. So, Grammy award nominated artist Man passionately strived to develop new sounds and music for the instrument, as well as, continued to explore its ancient history.
She is a founding member of The Silk Road Ensemble and apparently she has five pipas that she chooses among to play. Tragically, last year one of her priceless pipas was smashed by a U.S. Airways flight attendant by squashing it into a closet like a cheap suitcase. Click here to read more.
You will have a chance to see this great pipa virtuoso in a highly anticipated show at the Huntington Library on Wednesday, June 18th. They have built a special stage for Man’s world premiere performance of her exclusively commissioned work by the Huntington in the Liu Fang Yuan, the Chinese Garden. This concert will be the final piece of her music residency at the Huntington. This show will be a really special event.
Here is Wu Man talking about the pipa and a little bit about its history.
Here is Wu Man playing at the Boston Guitarfest from a few years ago.