World-class Pipa-soloist Wu Man recently made a few headlines when on board a flight to New Haven to play with the Kronos Quartet, an unfortunate incident happened with her pipa when it broke while it was stashed in the closet. Wu Man ultimately got a temporary replacement and managed to play the show without any problems. I had a chance to talk to her recently about the show.
CM: So sorry to hear about this thing that happened to you on US Airways. This seems to be a very common problem between airlines and musicians, and lots of instruments get damaged on flights because of their policies.
Wu: A lot of friends that are musicians have had the same situation, no matter what instrument they were carrying. We’re all concerned, every time we travel. I just don’t know what to say if it happens to anyone, but now it has happened to me. For me, I think it’s fortunate enough because the media’s helped, and I think because I am known–I’m not famous, but people know. “Oh yes, it’s Wu Man and she plays the Pipa!” [laughs]. I think that actually helped a lot. There’s so many musicians that are dealing with the airlines that aren’t having any results, but for me, the airline is in the process of resolving this problem. There’s no final word yet, but we did have a few conversations already. They’re willing to cooperate with us and do the best they can.
Kronos Quartet Workshop with Wu Man: Expanding the String Quartet Repertoire
CM: You were on your way to New Haven for the Arts and Ideas Festival with the Kronos Quartet on that flight. How did things go with the replacement instrument?
Wu: It was an amazing outdoor concert on the New Haven Green, and I heard from the festival people that that it was approximately 14,000 or 15,000 people in attendance, and the feedback from them was amazing! An hour before the concert, I got the instrument from someone that lived 2 hours away. It was such a dramatic story when the presenters heard I didn’t have the pipa at all, so they started searching for the instrument, but it was a Friday night, and every place that would have it was closed. Then they went online and looked up a music instructor in CT, and they found the pipa there. The owner was a woman, and she said “Oh, I know Wu Man! My father’s a fan of hers!”. So, the festival people drove 2 hours to her house, and she lent me her instrument! I had it in my hand by 1 PM and we were doing soundcheck by 2 PM.
CM: Was it hard to play this new instrument as opposed to the one you were used to?
Wu: The instrument felt new to me, and the piece was Philip Glass’ new piece, we were premiering it. It was tough for me because I had to get used to it right away, and play it like my own instrument, so that’s what I did. It was great, and there was a great reception from the audience. My friend was there with her whole family in the VIP area! That was a touching moment for me.
CM: Just curious–Is there an electric pipa?
Wu: I have an electric one! I’m still working with it–I’m trying to work out something I can play on it. It’s a different instrument. This Bay Area instrument maker I know–I commissioned him to make the “e-pipa”, and with the Kronos Quartet, we did a theatre piece called “A Chinese Home”, so there’s one movement with all electronic music, and this is what it was made for. I’m working on playing some “rock and roll pipa”! [laughs]
White Snow in Spring 阳春白雪