Breathing new life for an ancient instrument abroad

Updated: 2013-03-01 12:35

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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Breathing new life for an ancient instrument abroad

Wu Man suited up for the winter cold after rehearsing with her friends, The Knights orchestral collective, in preparation for a performance at the Asia Society earlier this month in New York. Caroline Berg / China Daily

Chinese pipa player, Wu Man, finds it difficult to say "No" to potential performances and projects, because spreading her native land's music and culture is her life's work.

"Any chance I can do a concert or participate in a collaboration, I do whatever I can to make the pipa visible on the global stage," Wu said. "The work never stops, but it's something I feel I must do."

Most recently, Wu partnered up with the New York-based orchestral collective The Knights for a concert series spanning 10 US cities, which concluded in California in mid-February.

"The Knights are all my friends, so I can't say no," Wu said after a rehearsal for a performance at the Asia Society in New York. "I said no a long time ago, but they just kept asking me."

Apart from their friendship, Wu values the young talent driving The Knights, as well as the group's international spirit, she said.

"It's so much fun to play with someone like Wu Man and bring these two elements of traditional Chinese music and classical Western music together," said Colin Jacobsen, violinist and co-founder of The Knights. "She's created a new body of repertoire with her pipa that was not present on the music scene before."

The concert series program featured two original Wu compositions, one based on a folk tune by the Li tribe of Southeast China and another inspired by a tune she once overheard her four-year-old son humming.

"The music showcases her personality, and playing it is a very intimate experience," Jacobsen said. "The way Wu Man sings as she bends notes on