From the intimate One Manhattan Square tea pavilion, residents can see the sweep of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, the structures that give the neighborhood its name. And on Feb. 23 at the Two Bridges Concert Series, residents can connect with two deep and dazzling elements of Chinese culture: the traditional instruments known as erhu and pipa. Keep reading to learn a bit about these fascinating instruments and to get a preview of the “Masterpieces of Erhu and Pipa” concert:
The Versatile Erhu
When you picture traditional Chinese instruments in your head, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the erhu, the slim, two-stringed spike fiddle with a bow that is woven between its pair of strings. Played from a seated position, the erhu is a favorite among buskers, although its melancholy tones also set the mood for Peking operas. Today, this fretless string instrument has made its way into the music of rock bands, such as New Jersey’s own The Hsu-nami.
The Challenging Pipa
This pear-shaped lute takes its name from the Chinese words “pi,” meaning to pluck strings forward, and “pa,” meaning to pluck strings backward, which is a deceptively simple description of the playing technique for this devilishly difficult instrument. Musicians playing the pipa must tape plectrums, or fake plastic nails, to their fingers before plucking its steel strings. Various versions of the instrument have anywhere from 12 to 30 frets. Once mastered, this string instrument is just as versatile as the erhu, and can be paired with everything from a piano to an entire orchestra. As pipa artist Zhou Hui told Time Out Beijing, “It’s one of the most difficult instruments, but the reward is great; you have a huge variety of music and voices.”
The Composer and the Soloist
On Feb. 23, residents of the One Manhattan Square condos, and anyone willing to make the trek to the Lower East Side, can enjoy a free performance on the erhu and pipa by a pair of true masters. Born in Shanghai, erhu player and composer Wang Guowei has toured the world with his spike fiddle and is currently the Artist in Residence in Chinese Music Performance and Director of the Williams College Chinese Ensemble. He will be joined onstage by pipa soloist Sun Li, who has performed with her instrument across the United States with the group Music From China, of which she has been a member since 2002. Attendees at the concert will be treated to a program that spans the history of these amazingly expressive instruments, from the classics of the ancient dynasties to contemporary songs.