Like Pearls Falling into a Jade Plate
When Wu Man arrived in New Haven1, Connecticut, from Beijing in 1990 she spoke no English and ★gambled on surviving with the help of her pipa, a traditional lute-like Chinese instrument. She has succeeded (A) （triumph）, working her way from New York's Chinatown to Carnegie Hall2, where she gives her debut recital on April 6th.
The pipa is a sonorous, four-stringed, pear-shaped instrument held upright on the lap. Its strings used to be silk but are now steel, which resonates better. The fake fingernails on Ms Wu's right hand ★pluck the strings, while her left hand fingers the ★frets. （1）She produces an (B) (astonish) range of colours and moods from a 2,000-year-old instrument which produces a sound, observed a poet from the Tang dynasty, like “pearls falling into a jade plate”.
Ms Wu is a ★virtuoso interpreter of traditional music, creating (C) （haunt） exotic waves of sound with ★pizzicatos and tremolos (the plucking of one string with all five fingers consecutively). But (D) （evoke） of dropping pearls soon fade to Jimi Hendrix3. During her time in America, （2）Ms Wu has daringly expanded the pipa's range, playing jazz, bluegrass4 and Bollywood5 with eclectic instrumentalists—and inspiring (E) (number) works from prominent composers.
The pipa can sound gently lyrical or (F) （aggress） modern, which is why, says Ms Wu, it attracts such composers as Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Tan Dun and Bright Sheng, all of whom have written for her. She was the first to partner the pipa with an endongo (an eight-stringed Ugandan instrument), an Appalachian banjo and a string quartet6. She was also, she says, the first to play jazz on the pipa.
All this happened after she arrived in America. Young Chinese musicians are now ubiquitous in American and European conservatories, competitions and concert halls, but during China's cultural revolution the performance of Western music was greatly restricted. Traditional instruments, however, were (G) （courage）, and Ms Wu, born in 1964 in Hangzhou, began studying the pipa when she was nine.
She entered the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music (where she heard Western music for the first time) and became the first (H) （receive） of a masters degree in the pipa. She was awarded a ★tenured faculty position. But her curiosity about the West proved (I) （resist）. Colleagues who had emigrated to the United States warned her that there was no interest in Chinese traditional music, （3）but, undaunted, she packed seven instruments (including pipas, a zither and a dulcimer) and set off.
During the first two difficult years she learnt English and cried a lot. She joined other Chinese musicians and began performing in New York's Chinatown, (J) （rehearse） in the basement of a dry-cleaner. （4）American musicians would approach her after concerts, (K) （fascination）. David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet said that the first time he heard her play was like the first time he heard Jascha Heifetz, a master violinist.
Mr Harrington chose her to perform in the quartet's recent Bollywood- (L) （inspiration） recording because he wanted one person to create many different sounds. （5）Ms Wu, with her “large sonic vocabulary”, was uniquely qualified. She also attracted the attention of Yo Yo Ma, a cellist with whom she now frequently performs as a member of his Silk Road ★Ensemble.
Pipa players and audiences in China are also becoming more open minded; she caused (M) （exciting） when she performed in Beijing with the Kronos Quartet ten years ago. “That's my hope,” she says, “that （6）the next generation know there is another way for traditional instruments to survive.”
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