The Pipa is a Chinese instrument with an almost 2000-year history, and Wu Man has been one of the reasons for its recent popularity. She’s the player that audiences and composers have been going to for decades. In 1997, for a festival celebrating his 80th birthday, Lou Harrison wrote a concerto for the instrument, and told her to “Make it sound like pipa music.” Wu Man and the China National Center for the Performing Arts Orchestra play it as part of a program Sunday night at Davies.
There’s more information about the concert at the San Francisco Symphony website.
Wu Man says that frequently, given how specialized her instrument is, composers will be very humble in approaching the music. “When he started composing, he told me, he said, “I’m not going write virtuoso traditional pipa repertoire, or the styles, because I didn’t grow up with that tradition, but I will come up with my own language, with my understanding about this instrument, and what I want to do with this instrument.” And he left much of the final touches to her. “I remember Lou sending me the score, the pipa parts, basically all the notes. There’s nothing else about the pipa notation. Where is the tremolo, where is the bending the notes? Lou just said, “OK, that’s all yours. Please make it sound like a pipa. It’s all in your hands. Make it sound like pipa music. All the details, a lot of ornamentation, I have to recreate it. So that’s also exciting to me, that part, to join the creative side not only just to play the music, but play and composing at the same time. ” This concert with the China NCPA Orchestra is the part of a 6-city US tour, (she’ll be joining them in three venues, including Ann Arbor next Tuesday.) They’ll also be playing Brahms’ Symphony No. 4, and Luan Tan by Chen Qigang.