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About the Author
Ken Smith currently divides his time between New York (where he writes for Gramophone magazine) and Hong Kong (where he serves as the Asian–performing arts critic for the Financial Times). He is Co–Music Director of the recordings Dong Folk Songs and Miao Music for China's MediaFusion Group, and he won an ASCAP–Deems Taylor Award in 2008 for his liner notes to Gil Shaham's recording of The Butterfly Lovers Concerto for Violin. Ken is also the author of Fate! Luck! Chance!, published in 2008 by Chronicle Books.

Ancient Paths, Modern Voices Blog

10/25 Chinese Teahouse @ The Asia Society

Mingmei Yip

The eighth floor of the Asia Society, generally used for lectures and symposiums, was billed as a “teahouse” last Sunday, both figuratively for its informal atmosphere and literally for the beverages and sweets being served in the back. There was still a hint of symposium, though, in the way that both the music and the qin made their way through the evening.

In these surroundings, much more intimate than the more formal concert setting at Zankel Hall, Wu Man was better able to serve as a direct conduit between the musicians and the audience—that is, until introducing her former conservatory roommate, qin player Zhao Jiachen, when neither Ms. Wu nor Ms. Zhao could render the title of the qin piece in English.

“It’s called Geese Descending on the Sandy Bank,” said Mingmei Yip, a fellow qin player (and Carnegie Hall festival participant) who was sitting in the second row. Looking around, I could see a number of people in the room who had also been to Ms. Yip’s lecture-demonstration at the China Institute last Thursday and now had a completely new frame of reference for China’s most iconic instrument.

Zhao and Yip, it became obvious, come from completely different traditions—the former emphasizing rhythm and musical line, the latter focusing on timbral subtleties. It’s the difference between conservatory and private gatherings, between tablature as score to perform or literature to read, between someone who plays for other people and someone who plays mostly for herself.

Wu Man directly engaged with the Dong singers, briefly explaining their songs. It turned out that several of the audience members were already familiar with the Dong. Many had been to Guizhou province and a few even came to the performance wearing traditional Dong attire.

Posted by Ken Smith

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