Huntington library hosts Wu Man's final concert

Updated: 2014-06-20 22:50

By Cindy Liu in Los Angeles (China Daily USA)

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Huntington library hosts Wu Man's final concert

Wu Man (center), the world's premier Chinese pipa player, performed on stage together with Japanese shakuhachi musician Kojiro Umezaki (left), and Korean drum Jang-Go musician Dong-Won Kim (right) at Chinese Garden Liu Fang Yuan in the Hungington Library on June 17. [Photo by Cindy Liu/China Daily]

She is recognized for her distinguished career as one of the world's virtuosos of the pipa, a musical instrument with a history of over 2,000 years in China, as well as a leading ambassador of Chinese music.

On Tuesday, Wu Man, presented her final concert in a series as the first musician-in-residence at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens of San Marino, California.

Wu performed her composition commissioned by the Huntington — Three Sharing, a collaborative piece featuring the Chinese pipa, Korean Jang-Go drum, and Japanese Shakuhachi instruments.

In addition to Wu on the pipa, Jang-Go drumming was performed by Dong-Won Kim, a Korean musician, and Shakuhachi, was performed by Kojiro Umezaki, a University of California Irvine professor who grew up in Tokyo in an Asian-European family.

Wu plays what is often referred to as the "Chinese lute," a pear-shaped wooden instrument composed of four strings and from 12-26 frets. The Grammy Award-nominated musician has carved out a career as a soloist, educator, and composer giving the pipa a new role in both traditional and contemporary music.

Wu told China Daily after the concert: "China, Korea and Japan share so many things in common in their cultures. However, each of the three instruments has its own language. We all keep our own traditions in this work."

In Three Sharing, pipa kept its original way of expression and had no participation in the chorus like other international musicians might want to do. Shakuhachi had a little rhythm — somehow indicating a Chinese music style, but kept its Japanese tradition, especially when those melodic ornaments and decorative notes were played.

"With music we reflect what comes from our own heart. I believe what's unique for a nation is also precious for the world," said Wu.

A native of Hangzhou, China, Wu has been living in the United States for 20 years. She studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she was the first person to receive a master's degree in the pipa. Wu's efforts were recognized when she was named Musical America's 2013 Instrumentalist of the Year, the first time the prestigious award has been bestowed on a player of a non-Western instrument

"This program is geared toward helping to create an understanding of Chinese culture through the visual and performing arts, and who better to lead the way than Wu Man," said Chinese Garden Curator June Li. "She not only cares about traditional Chinese music, but also how that music can be made relevant to our contemporary world."

The concert was held in Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, which is considered one of the biggest Chinese Gardens outside of China. It pairs botanical, literature and art by combining the scenic beauty of nature with the expressiveness of the arts to give deeper meaning to the landscape.

The visiting artist program is endowed by the Pasadena-based Cheng Family Foundation. Suzy Moser, associate vice-president for advancement, expressed her great thanks to Chinese donators who supported construction of the Chinese garden's construction.

"I am so proud of such a vast and generous Chinese community we have here around us. I am privileged to work with the Chinese community who devote themselves to building such a great philanthropy," she said .