Wu Man and the New Zealand String Quartet

Watch the full concert below

Wu Man holding the pipa above her head – photo credit: Stephen Kahn.

Wu Man has caught the world’s attention with her virtual reinvention of an ancient Chinese instrument—the lute-like pipa. Her performances have relaunched the reputation of this 2000-year-old instrument in the West, with multiple Grammy Award nominations and Musical America naming her 2013 Instrumentalist of the Year. She is a founding member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and starred in the acclaimed documentary The Music of Strangers in last year’s New Zealand International Film Festival. She is also a regular collaborator with the celebrated Kronos Quartet at festivals across the globe, including the 2013 Auckland Arts Festival.

Celebrating its thirtieth season in 2017, the New Zealand String Quartet has established an international reputation for its insightful interpretations, compelling communication and dynamic performing style. The Quartet is known for its imaginative programming and for its powerful connection with audiences of all kinds.

Together Wu Man and the New Zealand String Quartet performed a programme that spans the centuries, beginning with traditional Chinese folk music and embracing arresting contemporary scores, including pieces by Tan Dun, known for his celebrated soundtrack to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.


Concert programme

Welcome and Introduction
Dr Luo Hui, Art Advisor, Confucius Institute at Victoria University of Wellington.

Xi Yang Xiao Gu (Flute and Drum music at Sunset)
Trad. Chinese | Pipa solo 

Popular since the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), Flute and Drum music at Sunset is one of the representative works of ancient Chinese lute music. The author is not known. The music’s name was first seen in Textual Research of Contemporary Music compiled by Yao Xie (1805–1864) in the Qing dynasty.

White Snow in Spring
Trad. Chinese | Pipa solo 

White Snow in Spring first appeared in 1895 (during the Qing dynasty) as a hand-written score in pipa master Li Fangyuan’s New Collection of Thirteen Pipa Score.

Butterfly Love
by He Zhanghao and Chen Gang, arr. Yi-Wen Jiang | Pipa and quartet

Butterfly Love uses a famous love story as a theme, adopting a wealth of opera music performance practices, combined with the Western genre of the concerto. The use of charming melodies, lively music images, strong ethnic style, and distinctive local characteristics, made this work deeply rooted in people’s hearts. The use of folk materials of China's minority nationalities was extremely popular among Chinese composers during 1960–1980.

4th mvt from Chimaera
Tabea Squire | Violin and pipa

Chimaera is a term to describe a mythical creature made of parts taken from various animals. It also describes concepts perceived as wildly imaginative. The fourth duet, for violin and pipa, is the most energetic and virtuosic. The instruments share much of the same material, and imitate each other's styles—sometimes quite overtly, as though purely for fun. Chimaera was commissioned and first performed by members of the Beijing Forbidden City Chamber Orchestra and the New Zealand String Quartet, as part of the ‘Tales from the Forbidden City’ project, in 2013 and 2014.

Tabea Squire (b. 1989) has a BMus, a GradDip and Honours in performance from the New Zealand School of Music, where she studied for five and a half years under Helene Pohl.

Red Lantern
Zhao Jiping and Zhao Lin | Pipa and String Quartet

Red Lantern is derived from my father’s original music, scored for the great Zhang Yimou film, “Raise the Red Lantern.” Inspired by Chinese traditional Beijing Opera, this work explores its unique musical style and language with the many colors of our traditional music. The quintet is a suite of stories that take place in a traditional Chinese private courtyard (四合院) through the centuries. It tells an emotional story of Chinese family relationships in older times and the impact of the family's isolation from society. There are 5 movements: 1. Prelude—Moonlight 2. Wandering 3. Love 4. Death 5. Epilogue

—Zhao Lin, October 2015 in Beijing

Eight Colors
Tan Dun | String quartet

Eight Colors for String Quartet was the first piece I wrote after coming to New York in 1986, It shares the dark, ritualized singing, very dramatic form, and attention to tone color and dynamic with my pieces written in China, such as On Taoism (for orchestra, voice, bass clarinet and contrabassoon), but still is very different from them. This string quartet (together with In Distance and Silk Road) marks the period of my first contact with the concentrated, lyrical language of western atonality. From it, I learned how to handle repetition, but otherwise responded in my own way, out of my own culture, not following the Second Vienna School. I drew on Chinese colors, on the techniques of Peking Opera—familiar to me since childhood. The work consists of eight very short sections, almost like a set of brush paintings, through which materials are shared and developed. The subjects are described by the eight interrelated titles, and form a drama, a kind of ritual performance structure. Not only timbre, but the actual string techniques are developed from Peking Opera; the vocalization of Opera actresses, and Buddhist chanting can be heard. Although a shadow of atonal pitch organization remains in some sections of this piece, I began to find a way to mingle old materials from my culture with the new, to contribute something to the western idea of atonality, and to refresh it. I found a danger in later atonal writing to be that it is too easy to leave yourself out of the music. I wanted to find ways to remain open to my culture, and open to myself.

—Tan Dun

Concerto for String Quartet and Pipa
Tan Dun

Concerto for Pipa and String Orchestra, written in 1999, is a reworking of music from one of his most popular works: Ghost Opera for pipa and string quartet (1994). The work was inspired by China’s 4000-year-old “Ghost Opera” tradition at Taoist funerals (which Tan experienced as a child), where shamans communicate with spirits from the past and future and establish dialogues between nature and the human soul. This dialogue, notes Tan, produces “a new counterpoint of different ages, different sound worlds and different cultures.”  In the end, these worldly spirits return to the eternal soil of the earth. Tan describes Ghost Opera as a reflection on human spirituality, which is too often buried by the bombardment of urban culture and technology. The same might be said of this Concerto.

Concerto for Pipa and String Orchestra literally begins with a stomp. This initiates a pulsing incantation from the cellos that is picked up by the other strings. Momentum builds to a hair-raising glissando that seems to explode at its zenith. Surely we are in the realm of magic. Tan continues to pepper the score with colorful effects, including shouts of the word “Yao,” improvised sound masses, eerie harmonics from the strings, bent notes, rolls and slides. The work fairly throbs with energy. Only the third movement, Adagio, provides an island of calm. Even the final bars, where the pipa is accompanied by soft, sustained strings, seem loathe to relinquish the fiery spirit of this vibrant work.

—Christine Dahl, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra

Butterfly Love (Encore)