Meet Pipa Maestro Wu Man
Recognized as the world's premier pipa virtuoso and leading ambassador of Chinese music, Grammy Award-nominated musician Wu Man has carved out a career as a composer, soloist, and educator giving her lute-like instrument -- which has a history of two thousand years in China -- a new role in both traditional and contemporary music. Through numerous trips to her native China, Wu Man has premiered hundreds of new works for the pipa, while spearheading multimedia projects to both preserve and create awareness of China's ancient musical traditions. Her adventurous spirit and virtuosity have led to collaborations across artistic disciplines allowing Wu Man to reach wider audiences as she works to break through cultural and musical borders. In May 2012 Wu Man released her album Borderlands, the final installment of the acclaimed ten-volume "Music of Central Asia" ethnographic series, produced by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Culture Heritage, that traces the history of the pipa in China. The Borderlands project led Wu Man to the outskirts of the country to collaborate with musical cultures along the Silk Road including Tajikistan and China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwestern China. The result is a DVD and sound recording of folk musicians who would not otherwise be heard outside these regions, and who represent the very beginnings of the pipa's musical tradition. Musicians featured on the album include Abduvali Abdurashidov, Sirojiddin Juraev, Ma Ersa, Abdulla Majnun, Hesenjan Tursun, Sanubar Tursun, and Yasin Yaqup. Wu Man traveled to Singapore in June 2012 to collaborate on a theatrical project by TheatreWorks' artistic director Ong Keng Sen called Lear Dreaming. Based on Shakespeare's "King Lear," the work presented an Asian-inspired interpretation of the drama that culminated in two sold-out world premiere performances during the 2012 Singapore Arts Festival, and required Wu Man to both act and play the pipa.
Having been brought up in the Pudong School of pipa playing, one of the most prestigious classical styles of Imperial China, Wu Man is now recognized as an outstanding exponent of the traditional repertoire as well as a leading interpreter of contemporary pipa music by today's most prominent composers such as Tan Dun, Philip Glass, the late Lou Harrison, Terry Riley, Bright Sheng, Chen Yi and many others.
Adamant that the pipa does not become marginalized as only appropriate for Chinese music, Wu Man has striven to develop a place for the pipa in all art forms. Projects she has instigated have resulted in the pipa finding a place in new solo and quartet works, concertos, opera, chamber, electronic, and jazz music as well as in theater productions, film, dance and collaborations with visual artists including calligraphers and painters. Wu Man's role has developed beyond pipa performance to encompass singing, dancing, composing and curating new works. These efforts were recognized when she was made a 2008 United States Artists Broad Fellow.
Born in Hangzhou, China, Wu Man studied with Lin Shicheng, Kuang Yuzhong, Chen Zemin, and Liu Dehai at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she became the first recipient of a master's degree in pipa. Accepted into the conservatory at age 13, Wu Man's audition was covered by national newspapers and she was hailed as a child prodigy, becoming a nationally recognized role model for young pipa players. She subsequently received first prize in the First National Music Performance Competition among many other awards, and she participated in many premieres of works by a new generation of Chinese composers.
Wu Man's first exposure to western classical music came in 1979 when she saw Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing in Beijing. In 1980 she participated in an open master class with violinist Isaac Stern and in 1985 she made her first visit to the United States as a member of the China Youth Arts Troupe. Wu Man moved to the U.S. in 1990 and was selected as a Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study at Harvard University. In 1999 Wu Man was selected by Yo-Yo Ma as the winner of the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize in music and communication. She is also the first artist from China to have performed at the White House.