Last night at (Le) Poisson Rouge, pipa player Min Xiao-Fen and composer Huang Ruo offered a taste of this Thursday’s China Institute presentation, entitled “Traditional Chinese Music in the 21st Century.” Just in case you didn’t make it down to hear Ms. Min perform Mr. Huang’s Written on the Wind, the third in his Drama Theater series, you can still find the piece on Huang’s new Naxos CD To the Four Corners, which offers several of the Drama Theater pieces as well as his First String Quartet.
I’m in Hong Kong at the moment, which is quite far from (Le) Poisson Rouge but quite close to the home office of Naxos Records, and I can say that Min’s recording of Written on the Wind for pipa and voice—conceived both as a pure composition and a multimedia experience—is quite dramatic even without the visuals. The text, incidentally, is not Chinese. Huang, having sat through his share of vocal recitals in the West where he can’t understand the languages, has made it easier for Westerners to approach Chinese music. His piece is filled with all sorts of vocal nuance and textural color—except that the words are in a language of his own creation. For once, neither Chinese nor Western listeners have an advantage.
Thursday’s talk at the China Institute will cover Huang Ruo’s use of traditional sources in orchestral composition (such as Still/Motion, his recent companion piece to “The Butterfly Lovers” Violin Concerto), as well as Min’s rather liberal uses of traditional music. The reigning pipa crossover queen will also be performing with her jazz-tinged Blue Pipa Trio on November 8 at the Museum of Chinese in America, and has a much more traditional solo pipa performance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on November 19.Posted by Ken Smith