Renowned internationally as a virtuosic pipa performer, Wu Man has also carved out a career creating and collaborating on projects that give this ancient Chinese instrument a new role in today’s music world, not only introducing the instrument to new audiences, but greatly enhancing and growing the core repertoire.
Having been brought up in the Pudong School of pipa playing, one of the most prestigious classical styles of Imperial China, Wu Man is now recognized as an outstanding exponent of the traditional repertoire as well as a leading interpreter of contemporary pipa music by today’s most prominent composers such as Tan Dun, Philip Glass, the late Lou Harrison, Terry Riley, Bright Sheng, Chen Yi and many others.
Adamant that the pipa, a lute-like instrument with a history of more than two thousand years, does not become marginalized as only appropriate for Chinese music, Wu Man has striven to develop a place for the pipa in all art forms and continually creates, develops and pursues ways in which the pipa repertoire can grow. Projects she has instigated and collaborated on have resulted in the pipa finding a place in new solo and quartet works, concertos, opera, chamber, electronic, and jazz music as well as in theater productions, film, dance and collaborations with visual artists including calligraphers and painters. Wu Man's role has developed beyond pipa performance to encompass singing, dancing, composing and curating new works. These efforts were recognized when she was made a 2008 United States Artists Broad Fellow.
Cited by The Los Angeles Times as "the artist most responsible for bringing the pipa to the Western World," Wu Man continually collaborates with some of the most distinguished musicians and conductors performing today, such as Yuri Bashmet, Dennis Russell Davies, Christoph Eschenbach, Gunther Herbig, Cho-liang Lin, Yo-Yo Ma, David Robertson, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Michael Stern, and David Zinman. She is a principal member of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project and performs regularly throughout the US, Europe, and Asia with Mr. Ma as part of the project's ensemble. Wu Man also often frequently performs and records with the groundbreaking Kronos Quartet, their most recent collaboration being the multi-media work, A Chinese Home.
Wu Man will begin the 2010-11 season with performances in Mexico as part of the Philip Glass Ensemble performing Orion, a seven movement collaboration with Glass and five other world musicians comprised of music drawn from the indigenous traditions of Australia, China, Canada, the Gambia (Africa), Brazil, India, and Greece that was commissioned by Cultural Olympiad in Athens. Wu Man gave the world premiere of the work with the Philip Glass Ensemble and featured soloists in 2004 and has performed the work throughout the US and internationally in subsequent seasons, including its US and New York premieres.
In February 2011, Wu Man will perform as soloist with the Taipei Chinese Orchestra in three concerts. The Taipei Chinese Orchestra musicians all perform with traditional Chinese instruments. Wu Man will perform a pipa concerto, The Yang's Saga, by composer Yiu-Kwong Chung with the orchestra.
Last year Wu Man curated two concerts at Carnegie Hall as part of the "Ancient Paths, Modern Voices" festival celebrating Chinese culture. Wu Man and the artists she brought to New York from rural China for the festival also took part in two free neighborhood concerts and a concert presented by the Orange County Performing Arts Society in Costa Mesa. Her travels in China to find the musicians were documented on a film, Discovering a Musical Heartland – Wu Man's Return to China. Wu Man plans to bring the Zhang Family Band from the Shaanxi Province back to the US for performances around the country that will include a new shadow puppet piece for pipa.
In November 2009 Wu Man and the Kronos Quartet presented the world premiere of a new staged work with video, A Chinese Home, directed by Chen Shi-Zheng. This work was inspired by a visit Wu Man made to Yin Yu Tang, the reconstruction of a Chinese village homestead at the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts and is a musical journey through different time periods of Chinese history. In addition to playing the pipa, Wu Man sings, acts and plays percussion when performing this piece.
Wu Man has performed as soloist with many of the world's major orchestras, including the Austrian ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Moscow Soloists, Nashville Symphony, German NDR and RSO Radio Symphony Orchestras, New Music Group, New York Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. Her touring has taken her to the major music halls of the world including Carnegie Hall, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, the Great Hall in Moscow, the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Opera Bastille, Royal Albert and Royal Festival Halls, and the Theatre de la Ville. She has performed at many international festivals including the WOMAD Festival, Bang on a Can Festival, Festival d'Automne in Paris, Henry Wood's BBC Promenade, Hong Kong Arts Festival, La Jolla Summerfest, Le Festival de Radio France, Lincoln Center Festival, NextWave!/BAM, Ravinia Festival, Silk Road Festival, Tanglewood, Wien Modern, and the Yatsugatake Kogen Festival in Japan.
Wu Man has recorded for various labels, including a recording of Tan Dun's Ghost Opera with the Kronos Quartet on Nonesuch, a solo recording, Wu Man – Pipa From a Distance for Naxos, and two recordings with the Silk Road Ensemble and Yo-Yo Ma for Sony Classical. Wu Man's recent recordings include: Off the Map with the Silk Road Ensemble on World Village and In A Circle Records; Terry Riley's The Cusp of Magic with the Kronos Quartet on Nonesuch; Traditions and Transformations: Sounds of Silk Road Chicago featuring Wu Man's Grammy-nominated performance of Lou Harrison's Pipa Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on the CSO Resound label; and the Grammy-nominated recording of Tan Dun's Pipa Concerto with Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists on Black Onyx. Wu Man has also released a CD of world music entitled Wu Man and Friends on the Traditional Crossroads label, and a recording of Orion with the Philip Glass Ensemble for the Orange Mountain label. Nonesuch released a new recording with the Kronos Quartet, Wu Man, singer Asha Bhosle, and tabla player Zakir Hussain called You’ve Stolen My Heart in August 2005, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album. The album pays homage to the composer of classic Bollywood songs, Rahul Dev Burman. Wu Man will release a new solo recording of early pipa works from the 8th to 12th century and new compositions called Immeasurable Light, in September 2010 on Traditional Crossroads.
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. When in China, Wu Man received first prize in the 1st National Music Performance Competition among other awards. She also participated in many groundbreaking premieres of works by a new generation of Chinese composers. Wu Man currently lives in Carlsbad, CA, and she formerly lived in Boston for 12 years, where she was selected as a Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study at Harvard University. Wu Man was selected by Yo-Yo Ma as the winner of the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize in music and communication. She is also the first artist from China to have performed at the White House.