Sunday, February 25, 2007

Pipa Sensation Yang Wei

I have fallen completely in love with the pipa, the Chinese lute. The pipa is a stringed instrument that originated in the Middle East as the oud and has existed in China since the Qin Dynasty, 221-207 BC. It is now becoming a “world instrument” like violin or piano.

I recently heard pipa performed as the centerpiece of theatrical dream team Bright Sheng, David Henry Hwang, and Ong Keng Sen's musical theatre opera, The Silver River, at the University of Michigan.

Then pipa virtuoso, Yang Wei, came to the University of Michigan as an artist-in-residence for two weeks and I went to hear him perform and speak four times! Mr. Yang is an incredible musician and a charming person, peppering his performances of classical Chinese, contemporary Chinese, and Western music (Home on the Range, Oh Susanna “...with a pipa on my knee”) with stories about coming to America from Shanghai, drawing parallels between learning pipa and learning English (and how to drive).

Yang Wei is also part of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project which has “a vision of connecting the world’s neighborhoods by bringing together artists and audiences around the globe. Inspired by the cultural traditions of the historic Silk Road, the Silk Road Project is a catalyst promoting innovation and learning through the arts.” This is not just explorations of the traditional instruments and traditional music, but also exciting new collaborations between many of these instruments and musical traditions.

Chicago is the first city in the world to collaborate in a year-long partnership with The Silk Road Project, including performances, master classes, workshops and educational programs featuring Yo-Yo Ma and other Silk Road Ensemble members.

Check out the videos of the Silk Road Ensemble in action on Yang Wei’s website, and try to catch them in one of their upcoming concerts. They are so cool.