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Wu Man and Her Pipa

0 Ann Drinan

The Hartford Symphony had opening night concerts this past Friday and Saturday, featuring our beautiful Austin organ with a Bach Toccata (we were joined by the Connecticut Youth Orchestra) and the Saint Saens Organ Symphony.

But in between we played the Lou Harrison concerto for pipa and string orchestra, featuring Wu Man. It was a milestone for her, as it was the first performance on her new instrument in public.

Last June, she was planning to fly from Philadelphia to New Haven to join the Kronos Quartet at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas. I know from experience that the planes from Philly to New Haven are “puddle jumpers,” so there was no possibility that her pipa would fit on the overhead compartment. She was strapping it into the empty seat next to her when the flight attendant insisted on taking it to put in the coat closet up front, and then dropped it, breaking off the neck. No insurance for Wu Man, and a “nasty” airline to fight with. Could have been ugly.

But the story ends wonderfully. USAirways did everything they should — they paid to have a new pipa made, and paid to fly Wu Man to China twice to confer with the maker, who had made her original instrument.

I was so pleased to be there at the inauguration of her new instrument. The audience loved the concerto and her encore, and she was just beaming. It’s a truly beautiful instrument.

The NY Times wrote an article about her story, including a video of Wu Man playing her pipa, and Jeffrey Johnson reviewed our concert.

The HSO musicians wish all the best to Wu Man as she goes forward with her new pipa!

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