Kronos’ Fifty for the Future Composers

Wu Man - China / USA

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About Two Chinese Paintings and Glimpses of Muqam Chebiyat

Video: Wu Man demonstrates and discusses key techniques in her Fifty for the Future pieces, Two Chinese Paintings and Glimpses of Muqam Chebiyat. Participating quartets, Ligeti, Argus, and Friction Quartets, perform excerpts as part of the Kronos Quartet Workshop presented by the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall.

Notes on "Chebiyat Muqam – Muqaddima" begin at 4:03
Notes on "Chebiyat Muqam – Third Dastan" begin at 5:20
Notes on "Ancient Echo" begin at 6:26
Notes on "Silk and Bamboo" begin at 7:40

Two Chinese Paintings and Glimpses of Muqam Chebiyat Videos

Program Notes

About Two Chinese Paintings and Glimpses of Muqam Chebiyat, Wu Man writes:

“After two decades of collaborating with the Kronos Quartet, I am finally beginning to understand Western string instruments. With the group’s encouragement and support, I was able to create these—my first works for string quartet.

Two Chinese Paintings and Glimpses of Muqam Chebiyat are each two-movement suites which, taken together, resemble a set of portraits of traditional cultures from around China. In Chinese traditional music, instrumental pieces often have poetic titles to express their content and style. I decided to continue this tradition with this collection. The inspiration for these suites came from styles of traditional music in China familiar to me, including Uyghur Maqam of Xinjiang province, a pipa scale from the 9th century, and the Silk-and-Bamboo music, or teahouse music, from my hometown of Hangzhou.

“‘Ancient Echo,’ the first movement of Two Chinese Paintings, is based on a scale found among the oldest tunes for pipa. The second movement, ‘Silk and Bamboo’ is a variation on the tune ‘Joyful Song’ (Huanlege) from the collection of Silk-and-Bamboo.

Glimpses of Muqam Chebiyat is adapted from the Uyghur Muqam Chebiyat. In 2010, thanks to the Aga Khan Music Initiative, I had the opportunity to learn these pieces directly from the Uyghur musicians Abdullah Majnun and Sanubar Tursun.

“I feel quite grateful to be able to bring these old styles of traditional music—Uyghur Muqam, Jiangnan Silk-and-Bamboo music, and ancient pipa music—into the repertoire of Western string ensembles. The left-hand portamento, or sliding, technique called for here is quite distinct from the types of expression found in Western music. I hope that audiences will come to better understand the richness and diversity of music from China through these four stories.

“I’d like to thank Kronos for their trust and encouragement, for letting me be a part of their Fifty for the Future project, and for giving me this opportunity to share my musical experiences with young string quartets around the world!”

Wu Man's Two Chinese Paintings and Glimpses of Muqam Chebiyat , realized by Danny Clay, was commissioned as part of the Kronos Performing Arts Association’s Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire, which is made possible by a group of adventurous partners, including Carnegie Hall and many others.

Composition Process

Wu Man initially developed Two Chinese Paintings in traditional Chinese musical notation (the numbered system), as seen here in her original score for “Silk and Bamboo.”

  • Numbers 1–7 correspond to the seven notes in a diatonic major scale

  • A dot above a note raises it one octave, while a dot below a note lowers it one octave

  • A plain number represents a quarter note, and each underline halves the note length. (i.e. one underline = eighth note; two underlines = sixteenth note; etc.)

Learn more about Chinese musical notation here.

To develop Two Chinese Paintings and Glimpses of Muqam Chebiyat, Wu Man first recorded the piece on her own instrument, the pipa. After recording the first layer, she then created three more layers, one on top of the other, resulting in the four-part pipa tracks here. The recording was then realized by Danny Clay. Hear Wu Man’s original pipa recordings here.

About Wu Man

Recognized as the world’s premier pipa virtuoso and leading ambassador of Chinese music, Grammy Award–nominated musician Wu Man has carved out a career as a soloist, educator, and composer, giving her lute-like instrument—which has a history of over 2,000 years in China—a new role in both traditional and contemporary music. Through numerous concert tours, Wu Man has premiered hundreds of new works for the pipa, while spearheading multimedia projects to both preserve and create awareness of China’s ancient musical traditions. Her adventurous spirit and virtuosity have led to collaborations across artistic disciplines, allowing her to reach wider audiences as she works to break through cultural and musical borders. Wu Man’s efforts were recognized when she was named Musical America’s 2013 Instrumentalist of the Year, the first time this prestigious award has been bestowed on a player of a non-Western instrument.

Orchestral highlights of the 2014–15 season include a performance of Lou Harrison’s Pipa Concerto with The Knights, as well as Zhao Jiping’s Pipa Concerto No. 2 with the Canton Symphony Orchestra, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, and Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. In recital, Wu Man takes a new program, “Journey of Chinese Pipa,” to London, Sydney, and Dortmund. The solo recital explores the history of pipa repertoire, ranging from traditional folksongs to original compositions by Wu Man herself. After her first collaboration with the Kronos Quartet in 1993, Wu Man has since worked frequently with the group for over 20 years. She rejoined the Kronos in 2015 at Cal Performances to perform Terry Riley’s The Cusp of Magic, which was composed on the occasion of the composer’s 70th birthday. This performance marked the work’s 10th anniversary, as well as the Riley's 80th birthday. A principal member of the Silk Road Ensemble, Wu Man performed with the eclectic group in a concert with the New York Philharmonic.

Born in Hangzhou, China in 1963, Wu Man studied with Lin Shicheng, Kuang Yuzhong, Chen Zemin, and Liu Dehai at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she became the first recipient of a master's degree in pipa. Accepted into the conservatory at age 13, Wu Man’s audition was covered by national newspapers and she was hailed as a child prodigy, becoming a nationally recognized role model for young pipa players. In 1985 she made her first visit to the United States as a member of the China Youth Arts Troupe. Wu Man moved to the U.S. in 1990 and currently resides with her husband and son in California.

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