Wu Man Takes the Pipa Down an Ancient Path

In a profile in the Los Angeles Times, pipa player Wu Man discusses her new work exploring China’s traditional music after working with contemporary composers such as Terry Riley, Philip Glass and Lou Harrison:

“I’m interested in finding a new sound,” Wu, 45, says from her home in San Diego, where she teaches at UC San Diego. “How do we survive with this instrument in the modern age?”

Recently, however, Wu has begun to reach deep into a part of her nation’s past that she’s never experienced before: the village music that almost never makes it to Western ears.

“The audience in America has only heard urban Chinese music,” she says, describing the program she’s curated for the Ancient Paths, Modern Voices festival presented by both Carnegie Hall and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County. “I want to bring something very folk, earthy, like Gypsy music. It’s the other side of China.”

It’s also the music that China itself increasingly overlooks as well, says Dean Corey, the Philharmonic Society’s president. “One of her driving forces is to preserve these Chinese musical traditions, which are endangered,” he says. “They’re growing so fast — insanely fast — that they’re not paying attention to what it’s doing to their culture. They’ll look up at one point and it will have disappeared.”

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