Wu Man: Tradition, on a Fresh Note

Pipa player Wu Man was recently recognized as Instrumentalist of the Year by Musical America. The New York Times reviews her recent performance at Symphony Space:

Newly named instrumentalist of the year by Musical America, which publishes the Musical America International Directory of the Performing Arts and maintains the Web site musicalamerica.com, Ms. Wu offered vivid evidence for her renown in a handful of performances scattered throughout the gathering.

Her consummate musicality and brilliant technique were evident in two opening selections from her 2010 album, “Immeasurable Light.” “Wang Zhao Jun,” a contemplative piece derived from 9th- and 12th-century sources, demonstrated the pipa’s chocolaty original sound: lower in pitch and narrower in range than what is heard in the instrument’s subsequent repertory. In “Night Thoughts,” an original work, Ms. Wu turned the same tuning to more intricate ends.

Flamboyant pieces featuring the pipa’s customary brightness followed, as did sensitive duets with Julian Kytasty, a Ukrainian-American bandura player, flutist and singer — all of it unamplified and ideally sonorous in the intimate space.

Based in the U.S., Wu Man has worked with musicians from all over the world, through Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and other projects. She has also worked to preserve China’s musical traditions, most recently by producing a documentary film, Discovering a Musical Heartland, which records and interviews local village musicians in North and Central China. A trailer for the movie is on YouTube:

See also Wu Man performing the pipa in 2007:

Read more about Wu Man, Chinese music, and the Silk Road Ensemble via CDT.