Washington Performing Arts Presents the Return of Kronos Quartet Featuring Pipa Virtuoso Wu Man in ‘A Chinese Home’

Collaborative multimedia work is a powerful reflection on tradition and transition.

The Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet returns to D.C. on April 19, 2018, with longtime collaborator Wu Man to perform their major collaborative work, A Chinese Home, at Lisner Auditorium, presented by Washington Performing Arts. The program was conceived by pipa virtuoso Wu Man, Kronos’ Artistic Director David Harrington, and acclaimed stage and film director Chen Shi-Zheng (The Peony Pavilion, Dark Matter, The Bonesetter’s Daughter).

Kronos Quartet, with special guest Wu Man, in A Chinese Home. Picture by Jay Blakesberg/Retna LTD.

A Chinese Home was inspired by the extraordinary story of Yin Yu Tang, a 300-year-old house from a southwestern Chinese village that was dismantled piece-by-piece at the turn of the millennium and rebuilt at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Drawing on Yin Yu Tang’s metaphors of displacement and migration, rebirth and rebuilding, the work is a musical and dramatic construction in its own right, exploring China’s evolving identity through contributions by multiple composers, enhanced with live staging and video elements by Chen Shi-Zheng.

The evening’s program also includes additional works written or arranged specifically for Kronos Quartet, including Wu Man’s four-movement composition Four Chinese Paintings, part of Kronos’ Fifty for the Future commissioning initiative (in which Washington Performing Arts is a partner); the first movement of Terry Riley’s The Cusp of Magic; and Mehbooba Mehbooba (Beloved, O Beloved) by the legendary Bollywood composer Rahul Dev Burman, arranged by Stephen Prutsman.

The concert is a continuation of a five-year collaboration between Kronos and Washington Performing Arts, which officially began in 2017. The partnership includes the quartet’s ongoing participation in the Embassy Adoption Program (EAP), Washington Performing Arts’ flagship education program with D.C. Public Schools. The Kronos collaboration is also a key component of a major Washington Performing Arts multi-year initiative, The World in Our City, uniting the globe-spanning breadth of Washington Performing Arts’ programming with the cosmopolitan diversity of the nation’s capital.

During its residency in D.C. with Washington Performing Arts, Kronos will conduct special performance events for fifth- and sixth-graders from throughout the city as part of the Embassy Adoption Program. Students will enjoy in-depth access to one of the world’s finest performing ensembles while gaining insight into the music of their classroom’s assigned country (this year including Liechtenstein, Egypt, Taiwain, and Haiti). The sessions comprise a performance followed by a moderated discussion in which the students ask Kronos members about the musical traditions of the represented country. As Kronos founder and violinist David Harrington said of the program: “I’m so energized by having kids three feet away, grooving to the music. I would do this every day of my life if I could!”

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Washington Performing Arts performances at Lisner Auditorium are made possible by the Abramson Family Foundation.

Kronos Quartet, with special guest Wu Man, in A Chinese Home. Picture by Jay Blakesberg/Retna LTD.

About A Chinese Home

The work is structured in four parts, with transitional elements between the sections and a recorded soundscape that will be played in the hall during intermission as a prelude. Starting within the home, visually represented by footage from the historic Yin Yu Tang, the first section of the work evokes the China of the distant past through ceremonial and spiritual music. A variety of folk songs, including music from ethnic minority cultures in China, suggest rural villages. Kronos and Wu Man perform on a variety of instruments, including percussion and traditional Chinese wind instruments. The second part explores the urbanization of China, starting in the 1920s and up to the Communist revolution, through the music and spirit of Shanghai. Folk music transforms into jazz and pop music.

Music is appropriated as a tool for propaganda in Mao’s China (1949-1976), and folk tunes are rearranged and converted into revolutionary songs. The sounds of personal life are expanded into the public realm. Finally, the sonic landscape is reconstructed through the electronic manipulation of music that leads to a portrait of the contemporary China that has emerged since the 1980s. Folk music is remixed; familiar music is transformed through sampling. A new China that is connected to the old is represented by an electric pipa, designed and built by San Francisco-based MacArthur fellow Walter Kitundu. The public returns to the personal, though transformed by modern life.

About Wu Man
Recognized as the world’s premier pipa virtuoso and a leading ambassador of Chinese music, 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 Wu Man 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,” marking the first time this prestigious award has been bestowed on a player of a non-Western instrument.

Kronos Quartet, with special guest Wu Man in A Chinese Home. Picture by Jay Blakesberg/Retna LTD.

Born in Hangzhou, China, 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. She subsequently received first prize in the First National Music Performance Competition among many other awards, and she participated in many premieres of works by a new generation of Chinese composers. Wu Man’s first exposure to western classical music came in 1979 when she saw Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing in Beijing. In 1980 she participated in an open master class with violinist Isaac Stern and in 1985 she made her first visit to the United States as a member of the China Youth Arts Troupe.

About Chen Shi-Zheng

Chen Shi-Zheng is a China-born, New York-based director, internationally renowned for his innovative and provocative staging of operas as diverse as Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, and Tang Xianxu’s The Peony Pavilion. He recently conceived, wrote and directed a stage production of Monkey: Journey to the West, executed in collaboration with creators of the virtual rock band Gorillaz. Mr. Chen made his film directorial debut with Dark Matter, starring Meryl Streep and Liu Ye and winning Sundance Film Festival’s Alfred P. Sloan Award.

About the Kronos Quartet

For more than 40 years, San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet – David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello) – has combined a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually reimagine the string quartet experience. In the process, Kronos has become one of the world’s most celebrated and influential ensembles, performing thousands of concerts, releasing more than 60 recordings, collaborating with an eclectic mix of composers and performers, and commissioning over 950 works and arrangements for string quartet. They have won over 40 awards, including a Grammy Award and the prestigious Polar Music and Avery Fisher Prizes. The nonprofit Kronos Performing Arts Association manages all aspects of Kronos’ work, including the commissioning of new works, concert tours and home season performances, education programs, and a self-produced Kronos Festival. In 2015, Kronos launched Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire, an education and legacy project that is commissioning—and distributing for free—the first learning library of contemporary repertoire for string quartet.

Kronos Quartet, with special guest Wu Man in A Chinese Home. Picture by Jay Blakesberg/Retna LTD.

A Chinese Home featuring Kronos Quartet and Wu Man plays Thursday, April 19th at 8:00 pm at the George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium – 730 21st Street, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 785-9727 or go online.


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