Artist: Wu Man (with IU New Music Ensemble and Vera Quartet)
Venue: Buskirk-Chumley Theater
Mileage: 2.6

Well, I knew I’d get behind on this blog eventually, but didn’t think I’d be quite so negligent quite so soon! Oh well. Catching up – I’ll just do a quick write-up of this one.

IU’s Arts & Humanities Council did this really cool thematic event series this past spring semester, called China Remixed. A number of departments and units collaborated to bring in speakers and performers; this particular evening’s sponsors included the Jacobs School of Music and the Lotus Festival. A fortuitous partnership, overall. (And if you like “world music” you’d do well to check out that Lotus link and consider attending the festival one of these years – it’s terrific.) And hey, you can’t beat a free concert – which this was.

I had a quick pre-show dinner at the Bloomington Sandwich Company, my go-to stop for a bite before a weeknight Buskirk-Chumley event (they close early on Saturdays and are closed on Sundays). As always, my grilled turkey melt and sweet potato fries were great, served up super fast; this place has excellent customer service. Even if I’m running short on time, their service is so fast and they’re only two doors down from the theater, so it’s perfect.

As for the concert itself, Wu Man opened with three solo pieces – one modern-ish and two traditional, one Kazakh and one Chinese. The pipa is a traditional Chinese lute-like instrument with four strings, and in the hands of a skilled musician like Wu Man it can convey a wide range from delicate melody to something evocative of ferocious battle scenes.

Then the Vera Quartet, currently the Graduate Quartet-in-Residence at the School of Music, joined Wu Man on stage. I had no idea what to expect from the next piece, “Concerto for Pipa and String Quartet” by Tan Dun (who also composed the score for the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” – which I love enough to own the soundtrack CD). This piece was definitely the highlight of the evening for me. It’s a real blend of Asian, European, and American influences, and transported me to all kinds of places. In the middle there’s some darkness and tension and then all of a sudden this gorgeous Bach quotation leaps out where you least expect it, and it made me catch my breath. I don’t really have the vocabulary to write about this piece, but it really resonated emotionally and just knocked my socks off.

After that, I’m afraid the final piece (with the IU New Music Ensemble), “Tian Ling (Nature and Spirit)” by Zhou Long, wasn’t nearly as much my cup of tea. It was interesting and skillfully performed, but just didn’t move me the way the Tan Dun piece did. To each her own, and all that. It’s nice to get a little out of my musical comfort zone, too – so no complaints.

Overall, a pretty cool concert, and one that reminded me how very lucky I am to live in Bloomington where it’s not uncommon to hear interesting, world-class music like this for free!

Photo of Wu Man and some information about the pipa, from the evening's program
A page from the evening’s program

Venue Tips: 

  • Front row of the balcony is almost always an EXCELLENT seat here – unobstructed view (these things matter when you’re short like me), and you’re pretty much right over the soundboard so it usually sounds great.
  • If you’re going to buy merch, try to do it before the show or at the intermission, if there is one. After the show, the lobby gets really crunched with people.

Next up: Garry Tallent (E Street Band bassist, on his first solo tour)

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