Since moving to the United States 25 years ago in 1990, Wu Man has transformed the role of the pipa in the musical world. The Boston Globe has said, “Wu Man is one of the rare musicians who has changed the history of the instrument she plays.” The Economist notes, “In her time in America, Ms. Wu has daringly expanded the pipa’s range, playing jazz, bluegrass and Bollywood with eclectic instrumentalists – and inspiring numerous works from prominent composers.”
Celebrating this special anniversary throughout the 2014-15 season, Wu Man continues her longstanding collaborations with some of today’s most innovative musicians and ensembles. A principal and founding member of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble (which celebrates its 15th anniversary this season), Wu Man toured with the ensemble last fall in Europe, including Istanbul, Paris, Amsterdam, and Luxembourg, and in Asia, including South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and China. Last month, in concerts coinciding with the Chinese New Year, Wu Man again joined forces with the Silk Road Ensemble for its first joint performances with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic.
Also in February, at the Asia Society in New York, Wu Man premiered a new work, Unkai (Sea of Clouds), by Ned Rothenberg in a program with Mayumi Miyata and Jin Hi Kim, showcasing the three internationally acclaimed traditional instrumentalists from China, Japan, and Korea with instruments and music from their respective cultures. The three also toured to DC, Fukishima, and Tokyo.
Other season highlights have included Wu Man’s new recital program, “Journey of Chinese Pipa,” exploring the history of solo pipa repertoire from traditional folksongs to her own original compositions, which she toured with in London, Sydney, and Dortmund. A frequent collaborator with the Kronos Quartet for over 20 years, she performed Terry Riley’s The Cusp of Magic with the ensemble at Cal Performances and rejoins them in coming months. Keep reading for more exciting updates on Wu Man’s 25th year stateside.
Musical Instrument Museum opens its new Wu Man and pipa exhibit The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, AZ, dedicated to representing musical instruments and music of every country in the world, has honored Wu Man with a new exhibit in their Artist Gallery. For the display, she has loaned one of her own pipas, which you can see up-close, as well as a travel case, a set of pipa strings handmade in Shanghai, and sheet music using classical Chinese notation, published in 1979. Hear Wu Man describe her close personal connection with the pipa and her drive to take the instrument in new directions in this video.
Wu Man’s Our World in Song CD receives 2015 Grammy nomination Our World in Song,the most recent release in Wu Man’s discography of over 40 recordings, was nominated for a 2015 Grammy Award in the “Best World Music Album” category. Called “irresistible” by Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times, the recording features Wu Man performing arrangements of traditional folk songs from around the world with Grammy-winning collaborators Daniel Ho and Luis Conte.
Released on the label Wind Music, the recording offers a distinctive take on popular and classic folk tunes from diverse countries spanning the globe such as Mexico, France, Australia, China, Wales and more. Among the arrangements on the album are the French children’s tune “Frère Jacques” played in 13/4 meter, the popular Zimbabwean/South African anthem “Shosholoza” sung by a Taiwanese aboriginal youth choir, and the Japanese folk song “Sakura, Sakura” with added contrapuntal intricacies. Each arrangement on the album features Wu Man on the pipa accompanied by a variety of string and percussion instruments, and the liner notes include a visual directory of the more than 50 instruments that are played.
Upcoming concerts at the Big Ears Festival with the Kronos Quartet, a tour with the Shanghai Quartet, and performances at the Cleveland Museum of Art and Ojai Music Festival
On March 28 and 29, Wu Man performs with the Kronos Quartet at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN, celebrating Terry Riley’s 80th birthday this year. In the headlining concert they perform The Cusp of Magic, which Terry Kiley wrote for Wu Man and the Kronos Quartet during his 70th birthday season in 2005. Wu Man says “I have fond memories of working with Terry on the piece and how the influence of Indian musical traditions impacted the way he wrote for the pipa.” She also performs The Cusp of Magic with the Kronos Quartet at SFJAZZ Center on June 26.
On April 8, Wu Man visits the Cleveland Museum of Art to perform her Ancient Dances program, including the multimedia piece of the same name, which she developed with composer Chen-Yi, video artist Catherine Owens, and percussionist Robert Shulz. The video art in Ancient Dances is especially close to her heart, as it incorporates paintings by her father. She describes the paintings as “mostly of birds and flowers made with ink brush in the classical style” and projections of these paintings accompany the pipa and percussion music, which was inspired by poems by eighth-century poet Li Bai, during the performance.
Wu Man tours with the Shanghai Quartet performing at the Asia Society in Houston on April 21, where she will perform Five Seasons by Lei Liang, commissioned for the Shanghai Quartet and Wu Man. Together they also perform at the Chan Centre in Vancouver on May 9 with a program titled “A Night in Ancient and New China” including a multimedia work by the eminent Chinese composer Zhao Jiping, a suite of traditional Chinese folk songs arranged by Yi-Wen Jiang, as well as solo pipa works by Wu Man.
At the 2015 Ojai Music Festival on June 12-14 and at Ojai at Berkeley on June 19-20, Wu Man will give performances of Lou Harrison’s Pipa Concerto, which he was commissioned to write by the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in 1997 during his 70th birthday season, with the Renga String Orchestra led by Steven Schick. She will also perform solo and chamber works. In Ojai on June 12 she is also featured in One-on-One with Wu Man, a conversation with Ojai Talks director, Ara Guzelimian. The talk will include a screening of the 2012 documentary film “Discovering a Musical Heartland: Wu Man’s Return to China” about her recent expedition through China’s remote regions in which she unearths ancient musical traditions.
Wu Man discusses her upcoming performances for the award winning blog “I Care If You Listen” in ‘5 Questions to Wu Man’.