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Sound of Charlotte Blog

Bringing the pipa to the Western World

Photo credit Chad Batka

Wu Man is recognized as the world's premier pipa player, dedicating her career to giving the ancient Chinese instrument a new role in today's music.

Born in Hangzhou, on the east coast of China, Wu Man studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she became the first person to earn a master's degree in pipa.

The Grammy Award-nominated artist is a respected expert on the history and preservation of Chinese musical traditions. In 1999, Yo-Yo Ma selected her as the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize in music and communication, and she is the first artist from China to have performed at the White House, along with a cellist with whom she now performs as part of the Silk Road Project.

She has been referred to as "the artist most responsible for bringing the pipa to the Western world."

About the Pipa                                                                    

The pipa is a four-stringed Chinese lute-like instrument with a history dating more than 2,000 years. During the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC 220 AD), instruments with long, straight necks and round resonators, with snake skin or wooden sound boards, were played with a forward and backward plucking motion that sounded like "pi" and "pa." Throughout history, the instrument has evolved, and today's pipa consists of 26 frets and six ledges, arranged as stops, and its strings are tuned to A, D, E, A.

What does it sound like? Find out in the video below!

Posted in Classics. Tagged as Classical, guest artists.

Meet the new CSO Musicians

This fall we welcome three new musicians to the Charlotte Symphony family! Meet cellists Sarah Markle and Marlene Ballena, and principal bass trombonist Scott Hartman.

Sarah Markle, cello

How did you spend your summer?
I recently moved to Charlotte from New York, so a lot of my summer was spent packing and finding an apartment! I got to do some slightly more fun things too: I played in my hometown's summer chamber music series, the Roycroft Chamber Music Festival, hiked in Jasper National Park, Canada, and got a lot better at rollerblading.

How did you get started playing cello?
My school required all 4th graders to start on a string instrument, and I picked the cello because my grandmother loves it, and also because pretty much everyone else picked the violin.

Where's the most interesting place you've played?
Last fall I played at Radio City Music Hall for a live TV broadcast of "America's Got Talent" that involved a lot of fog machines, crazy light shows, and a crowd of about 6,000 people. Thankfully we were just back-up musicians, basically serving as props, so I could look around and really take it all in while I was onstage.

What is the one thing you can't live without?
Chocolate. Typical, I know, but it's true.

What do you enjoy doing outside of performing?
I got into ultimate Frisbee during my undergrad, and while I haven't played much since then, I'm always looking for opportunities! I also like reading anything by Jonathan Franzen or David Foster Wallace.

Scott Hartman, principal bass trombone

How did you spend your summer?
I was at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts this summer. It was a terrific summer and it was a great experience to work with and learn from the musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In my free time, I enjoyed kayaking and hiking in the beautiful Berkshires.
How did you get started playing trombone?
I got started on the trombone in the school band when I was 12. A few years later at a jazz camp they asked if I would be willing to play bass trombone, so I borrowed a bass and ended up loving it. After that I played both tenor and bass pretty equally for a few years before switching to bass trombone full time.

Where's the most interesting place you've played?
It's hard to choose, but one that comes to mind is a brass quintet performance in western Massachusetts, where we played on the grounds of a colonial house that dated to the 1760s. We sat at the base of a mountain facing toward the house and lawn that the audience was seated on. It was really cool to hear the quintet sound resonate through the woods and hills.

What is the one thing you can't live without?
I don't know that there's anything I really can't live without, but one thing I don't want to live without again is a car. I'm a big car buff (especially vintage cars) and I love driving. I didn't have a car when I was in Chicago and I quickly realized how much I missed driving.

What do you enjoy doing outside of performing?
Growing up in Florida instilled in me a love of water recreation. I enjoy kayaking, boating, canoeing, and fishing, plus hiking and camping.

Marlene Ballena, cello

How did you spend your summer?
I attended the Beethoven Institute in New York and the Banff Centre Chamber Music Residency with my quartet. We enjoyed both the music and the beautiful scenery of the Canadian Rockies.
How did you get started playing cello?
Both my parents are musicians. They picked the cello for me. At the beginning I was unsure about their decision but eventually I fell in love with it.

Where's the most interesting place you've played?
I had the opportunity to perform in Doha, Qatar with my quartet. We played for the Queen!

What is the one thing you can't live without?
Chamber music!

What do you enjoy doing outside of performing?
I love running and salsa dancing.

Tagged as CSO Musicians, Musicians.

Christopher Warren-Green's Summer

Charlotte Symphony Music Director Christopher Warren-Green has been busy since the Classics series season finale of Verdi's Requiem in May.

He kicked off the summer by conducting the Minnesota Orchestra in performances of the final three symphonies by Mozart Nos. 39, 40, and 41. Next up: Turkey, where he led the Istanbul State Symphony for the city's Summer Music Festival. Later in June, he returned to the UK to conduct the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in an all-Tchaikovsky gala at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

Back in the States, he conducted the Detroit Symphony in performances featuring the DSO principal trumpet performing the Telemann Trumpet Concerto and other works by Schubert, Rossini, and Mozart.

After a busy summer, he spent a much-deserved rest with family in the beautiful Surrey Hills countryside outside of London. We look forward to his return to Charlotte next month, as he gears up to lead the Charlotte Symphony for Beethoven's "Eroica" September 19 & 20 to open the season.

Posted in Classics. Tagged as Classical, conductors, Music Director.