Wu Man, a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble, is a virtuoso of the normal Chinese language string instrument, the pipa. She’s performing on the Ojai Music Festival this weekend, bringing each historic Chinese language folks songs and fashionable East-West fusion to the efficiency.
There’s a sequence of caves in Dunhuang, a Chinese language metropolis on the sting of the Gobi Desert. Within the early twentieth century, a Taoist monk found a trove of historic paperwork, work and textiles in considered one of them. Amongst that treasure have been 25 items of music written for a conventional Chinese language instrument generally known as the pipa.
“So the unique, these 25 pipa tunes, proper now they’re in Paris, in a museum,” mentioned Wu Man, who started working towards the pipa as a toddler. “I am doing a recording challenge: I need to play these 25 tunes.”
Man can be performing a number of of these historic pipa songs on the Ojai Music Competition this yr. She mentioned they’re in a very completely different tuning and mode than what we now consider as fashionable Chinese language music.
“Someway, between Central Asia and China and Europe, a mixture combined. As a result of that point in [the] Tang Dynasty, China mainly welcomed everybody, so numerous tradition combined, together with the pipa, [which] got here from Central Asia!” Man mentioned.
Along with these early pipa tunes, Man can be a part of the competition’s essential efficiency, Ghost Opera. It is a work by Tan Dun, which the composer wrote partially to characteristic Man’s pipa enjoying.
“It’s a beautiful, fantastic piece — we’ll provide one of the best piece from the composer. It is not solely like a string quartet and pipa quintet piece, but additionally very theatrical. We’ve got a stage setting, and every musician has to play completely different devices,” Man mentioned.
Man can be performing with Grammy award-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens, who will play banjo. Each musicians are a part of Silkroad Ensemble, an eclectic group of musicians based by famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Giddens can be the inventive director for the Ojai Competition this yr.
Wu Man mentioned her pipa and Giddens’ banjo pair completely collectively.
“We at all times thought that banjo and the pipa [were] very, very shut; one way or the other they’re associated. Generally I play pipa and [the] viewers will are available to say, ‘Wow appears like a banjo.’ So generally I joke, ‘Oh, that is Chinese language banjo,’” Man mentioned.
Man and Giddens met over Silkroad’s Zoom conferences throughout Covid. After they lastly obtained collectively to apply in individual, Man determined to jot down a chunk for them to play collectively.
“I simply love her artistry and love her inventive facet,” Man mentioned. “I wrote particularly for us a Chinese language folks music… It’s referred to as ‘Raining Day.’”
Man mentioned it takes a very long time to be taught your instrument, your sound, and to get snug on stage. Throughout a efficiency, you must take into consideration the music, perceive what’s subsequent and grasp the circulate of the piece.
“If I play the solo live performance [for] an hour and a half, afterwards, I’m simply useless. You already know, my physique, my thoughts. I simply do not need to suppose. That second you focus 100%, not simply on music, [but on] your thoughts, your physique, your finger, your muscle, all the things,” Man mentioned.
Man has been performing for greater than 30 years, however she mentioned there are challenges. She joked that once you say you’re a musician, individuals at all times need to know what your day job is.
“It may be very laborious to make a dwelling as an artist,” Man mentioned.c“However I feel for me, the [biggest] problem is how can I introduce the pipa, this Chinese language historic instrument with a really lengthy historical past — fascinating historical past — and that also survives right now? How can I introduce [it] to extra individuals [who] reside [on] this earth and to have the ability to let pipa reside one other century, [and] not disappear?”
After the Ojai Music Competition, Man will journey again to China to see her 88-year-old father. An artist himself, he additionally teaches conventional Chinese language portray on rice paper.
“My father gave me the sense of what’s magnificence, what’s artwork. If I look in any artwork piece, I see music there. I see the construction; I see the colour; I see the dynamic; I see the timing; I see the definition. I see plenty of issues–precisely like music,” Man mentioned. “Once I take heed to music, I additionally see work. So my father truly gave me the muse to change into a musician, change into an artist. Yeah.”
Whether or not performing historic Chinese language music, an opera, or a recent duet she wrote herself, Man mentioned she’s excited to be with fellow musicians on the Ojai Competition. How fortunate for us that enjoying pipa is her day job.
The KCBX Arts Beat is made potential by a grant from the Shanbrom Household Basis.