World-Class Musicians Perform at Wellesley College, Bring Ancient China to Life

March 24, 2016
Wu Man
Photo by Ben Doyle

Wellesley, Mass.—Wellesley College’s popular Wellesley College Concert Series hosts global superstar Wu Man on campus in April to perform with the Shanghai Quartet, widely regarded as one of the foremost chamber music ensembles in the world. The concert will transport audience members back in time as it features the ancient Chinese pipa instrument and blends East and West, ancient and modern, and the classical and popular. Wu Man, a Grammy Award-nominated musician, is widely recognized as the world’s premier pipa virtuoso. "Music from Ancient and New China" takes place in Wellesley’s Diana Chapman Walsh Alumnae Hall Auditorium, Sunday, April 3, 2016, starting at 3:00 p.m. The concert is free and open to the public.

The program’s highlights include a new multimedia work by the eminent Chinese composer Zhao Jiping in collaboration with his son, Zhao Lin. Wu Man and the Quartet will perform some of the father-son duo’s most famous scores of Chinese cinema, including Raise the Red Lantern, To Live, and Farewell My Concubine, among others. The program also includes a suite of traditional Chinese folk songs arranged by Quartet violinist Yi-Wen Jiang, as well as solo pipa works by Wu Man.

As part of the artists’ visit, both Wu Man and the Quartet will take part in a three-day residency on campus. They will lead a master class, join in an open rehearsal and informal performance with Wellesley’s string faculty, and make other class visits, including interacting with students and faculty from the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. “This residency creates wonderful opportunities for Wellesley music students to gain exposure to world-class artists' musical expertise and experience,” said Eliko Akahori, director of Wellesley’s Music Performance Program. “Student chamber music groups will receive first-hand coaching to develop their artistry. In addition, our students, including students with backgrounds in traditional Chinese instruments, will benefit from exposure to a unique combination of Western and Eastern instruments and music." The residency activities are also open to the public.

Wu Man has previously toured the globe with various orchestras, including Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. In this current tour, she and the Shanghai Quartet will visit 12 North American cities. The Quartet has a long history of championing new music and juxtaposing traditions of Eastern and Western music. Wu Man first met the musicians of the Shanghai Quartet at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she started her studies at the unheard of age of 13. (Her audition was covered by national newspapers, and she was hailed as a child prodigy, becoming a nationally recognized role model for young pipa players.) Wu Man’s visit to the Boston area brings the artist full circle to the origins of her interest in Western classical music, a 1979 Boston Symphony Orchestra concert conducted by Seiji Ozawa performed in Beijing.

While the concert is free, reservations are recommended; tickets can be reserved here or by visiting the Wellesley College Concert Series website. The series brings world-class performers to campus, complementing Wellesley's Music Department’s academic offerings and augmenting the cultural life of the College and surrounding community.

This program is funded by the Wellesley College Music Department and is generously supported by the Expeditions program of the New England Foundation for the Arts, made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the six New England state arts agencies. The program is also funded in part by the Marjorie Copland Baum Memorial Fund and the Florence Jeup Ford ’22, Mary M. Crawford ’22, and Virginia Ford ’48 Artist-in-Residence Endowment Fund.

About Wu Man
Wu Man has been recognized by today’s most prominent composers as an outstanding exponent of the traditional repertoire as well as a leading interpreter of contemporary pipa music. She was awarded the Bunting Fellowship at Harvard University in 1998 and was the first Chinese traditional musician to receive The United States Artist Fellowship in 2008. She is also the first artist from China to perform at the White House.  Wu Man’s discography includes over 40 albums, including the Grammy-nominated recordings Our World in Song, Traditions and Transformations: Sounds of the Silk Road Chicago, her recording of Tan Dun’s Pipa Concerto with Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists, and You’ve Stolen My Heart featuring Wu Man and the Kronos Quartet.

About the Shanghai Quartet
Founded in 1983, the Shanghai Quartet is renowned for its passionate musicality, impressive technique and multicultural innovations. Its elegant style melds the delicacy of Eastern music with the emotional breadth of Western repertoire, allowing it to traverse musical genres including traditional Chinese folk music, masterpieces of Western music, and cutting-edge contemporary works. The Quartet has an extensive discography of more than 30 recordings, has worked with the world’s most distinguished artists, and regularly tours the major music centers of Europe, North America and Asia.

About the pipa and its history
The pipa is similar to a lute and dates back to the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BCE - 220 AD). In ancient times, the instrument acquired its name from the forward and backward plucking motion with which it is played, because the pipa makes sounds like “pi” and “pa” as its strings are plucked. Su Zheng, a musical scholar at Wesleyan University, explains that the pipa’s “rich tonal qualities and resonant timber gives its music expressiveness and beauty that are lasting and endearing.” In addition to contributing beauty, the pipa has played a role in history through its use in the teaching of Buddhism in early China, as a prominent instrument for female entertainers called “singsong girls” that played at imperial courts and teahouses, and in more elaborate compositions when the “scholar-bureaucrats” began taking an interest in the instrument in the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911).

About Wellesley College
Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to some 2,400 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 75 countries.

Press Contact:
Sofiya Cabalquinto, Wellesley College, 917-691-7558,
Chris Hennessy, Wellesley College, 781-283-3201,