Preview: A Conversation With Pipa Virtuoso Wu Man, Appearing at the Cleveland Museum of Art Wednesday Night


By Mike Telin

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Performing Arts Series continues on Wednesday, April 8th at 7:30 pm with a concert by pipa virtuoso Wu Man in Gartner Auditorium. “I’m sure that people who are coming to the concert are prepared to listen to something they are not familiar with,” Wu Man said during a telephone conversation from Knoxville, Tennessee, where she was performing at the Big Ears Festival along with her longtime collaborators, the Kronos Quartet.

Wu Man’s most recent Northeast Ohio performance was in January, when she performed Zhao Jiping’s Pipa Concerto No. 2 (2013) with the Canton Symphony Orchestra. Her concert at the museum will feature another 21st-century work, Ancient Dances, a three-movement piece by Chen Yi for pipa, percussion, and video, combined with Chinese calligraphy. “Ancient Dances will make up the second half of the program. The first half will highlight traditional pipa repertoire and some of my own compositions and improvisations,” Wu Man explained. “I will also include music from the time of the cultural revolution in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s going to be a fun musical journey. During the concert I will talk about the different musical styles. My hope is that people will leave not only thinking the concert was cool, but also have a greater curiosity about other cultures.”

Since arriving in the United States in the early 1990s, Wu Man has established a distinguished career as a pipa virtuoso, educator, composer and commissioner of new works for her 2,000 year-old instrument. She has worked tirelessly to engage audiences through concert tours (she is a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project) and multimedia projects that highlight the richness of China’s ancient musical traditions, as well as collaborations that cross artistic disciplines…

Why did Wu Man first begin playing the pipa? “When I was nine years old my parents decided for me — like typical Chinese parents (tiger parents, she added with a laugh). Of course they saw that I had musical talent. My father is a painter, and my mom is a teacher, so I grew up in an artist family — surrounded by all of my father’s paintings, along with poetry and music. So for my parents, it made perfect sense for me to study music, particularly traditional music.” 

Read the rest of the conversation at

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