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A Chinese Duo at Shalin Liu


Rockport Music journeyed east and west with Wu Man and Hsin-Yun Huang, pipa and viola, respectively, in traditional and contemporary selections further exemplifying the universality of music, yīnyuè (Chinese). Recognized as the world’s premier pipa virtuoso and “generally regarded as being the hottest pipa player in the world,” Wu Man appeared with Hsin-Yun Huang, who has forged a career performing on international concert stages, commissioning and recording new works, and nurturing young musicians.

Peering into the lives of these two artists and educators gave cause to remember Shalin Liu, who grew up in Taiwan, the daughter of a teacher, and a philanthropic force behind Rockport’s inimitable Performance Center. She has remarked “how beneficial music is. Nothing can be clearer than that, the power of music.”

And Shalin Liu Performance Center resounded Thursday evening in a program of pipa solos featuring folk songs and dances alternating with viola solos by composers the likes of Ligeti and Garth Knox. Together, Wu Man and Hsin-Yun Huang presented the world premiere of Mother’s Song, a Rockport Music commission. Joined by a string quartet, the duo then recreated a Vivaldi concerto for viola d’amore and lute on their own instruments. 

Billy Burgoyne photo

A pair of pipa solos, Dance of Yi People (彝族舞曲) and Song of Kazkh, the folk arrangement by Wu Man, hurdled past any cultural barriers, inspiring overwhelming feelings of reverence and admiration. Short as the pieces were, coming to know the four-stringed pipa and Wu Man was immediate, fulfilling. For this one-of-a-kind encounter, one would notice the Chinese entries favoring multiple sections, generally beginning in measured ways then opening up. Wu Man covered those parts with astonishing beauty equally and making what is technical and what is poetic intimate. To speak in detail of this pipa player reaches beyond; think of such an array, say, as our galaxy, the Milky Way.    

A pair of viola solos, the Romanian Hora Lungă and Irish 9 fingers, subtly encultured Chinese musicality from Hsin-Yun Huang. The Eastern European folksong from György Ligeti’s Sonata for Solo Viola and the nine fingers plucking the four-stringed viola of the Garth Knox followed surprisingly well Wu Man’s pipa pairs. Hsin-Yun Huang’s virtuosic ways—formidable.

A second round of Pipa solos Big wave washes the sand (大浪淘沙) and Leaves flying in autumn (杨花九月飞): the former cleansed the urban ear through its “reflecting both strength and the softness of the sea and sand;” the latter, in high powered moves, returned that ear to reality drawing on “classical martial style of pipa and a nod to rock ‘n’ roll.” Both pairings encouraged experiencing more of Wu Man, the pipa so plainly carried in her heart.

Not so much with the second round of viola solos, where Ahmed Adnan Saygun’s Adagio and Allegretto from Partita for Solo Viola probably needed more hearings to catch on to its language, while Denji Bunch’s The 3Gs, with its brash blues, seemed out of place. Hsin-Yun Huang’s stances often felt insistent.

Lei Liang was there to hear his Mother’s Songs 春江花月夜 commissioned by Rockport Music, and he appeared jubilant with the world premiere given by the Chinese duo of Wu Man and Hsin-Yun Huang. The Mongolian inflections of Liang began with the slightest of signals before shapeshifting, invitations, as it were, to share the gift of “songs that are of a traveler’s longing for home and a daughter’s desire to be reunited with her mother.” Mother’s Songs is a marvelously carved and truthful reminiscence from the holder of a Grawemeyer Award and the Elliott Carter Rome Prize.

Enter the accompanying string quartet with an ad hoc entry about a moonlit night in the spring and the programmed arrangement of Concerto in D Minor for Viola, Pipa and Strings, RV 540 by Antonio Vivaldi. Both artistically delivered and demonstrating “how beneficial music is. Nothing can be clearer than that, the power of music.”

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chair of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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