Yadong Guan trio
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Yadong Guan trio

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More sensitive than a harp, more twang than a guitar and at least as soothing as a cello, I had never heard the pipa before in my life. If I had, I would have taken it up. It’s beautiful. This past week the North Okanagan Community Concert Association treated its subscription members to the pipa sounds of Yadong Guan and her string crusader accompanists, Christophe Lobel on cello and Christophe Pratiffi on guitar, at the Performing Arts Centre. From ancient Chinese melodies ––the pipa is at least 2,000 years old–– to modern classical, Irish and Bartok, Guan’s versatility on this instrument was stunning. Her right hand danced with balletic harp movements while her left stroked the neck up and down like a cello. Guan skillfully altered timbre, pitch, volume and tone simultaneously. Touch and texture seemed to change the mood on a dime. “I believe the pipa is an expressive instrument,” Guan told the audience, as she added in her guitar and cello companions. Both were brilliant musicians in their own right, and clearly expanded their musical intelligence through their encounter with the pipa. At times, the western sounds merged with the pipa into one, and other times, the oriental sound was quite distinct and separate. The contrast and the blending created interesting sound and feeling. Guan played some bluegrass twang, then turned her four strings into a fully-strung harp, over to Turkish oud and saz, and back into a Jasmine flower for a soothing Chinese love song. It’s hard to get bored with a pipa. It’s a global instrument. Renowned Quebecois professor of classical guitar, Claude Gagnon, composed and arranged specifically for this unusual, yet magnificent blend of 14 strings. Gagnon’s Frequence Pekinoise, also the title of the trio’s latest recording, had these musicians bouncing melody lines between pipa and cello. Guitar backed with jumping harmonics while the cello took up the bass line via pizzicato. Beautiful transitions with a deep quality of listening were created by these refined artists. Such a simple melody and so beautifully played. Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras was breathed into this trio into an arrangement by Gagnon, who turned the cello into soprano and the guitar into seven cellos. Cellist Lobel caught the mood best when he said: “I have no words but you’ll see the cello can talk.” Northwestern China has its Turkish influence, and guitarist Pratiffi with Guan on pipa simulated a duet of saz and oud, two of the kings of Middle Eastern music –– rich and rare. Guan’s singing of two traditional Chinese songs during the show was so lovely and so restful, it greeted the quiet blanket of snow that tucked in Vernon on Friday. And for the trio’s finale, Vittorio Monti’s Csardas, Guan exposed her plucking fingers as supple as a bow on a violin, evoking the rhapsody in the seven tempo variations. I was amazed by the variety and quantity of skills needed in mastering expression of the pipa. It’s a life’s work, and only 2,000 years young. - Par Lisa Talesnick – Vernon Morning Star – December 2009


Discography

Frequence pekinoise, XXI-21 Label

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Bio

Chinese pipa, guitar, and cello, featured in a bold, “East-meets-West” repertoire including traditional Chinese and Irish music, modern classical works, and selections from the Quebec song repertoire... without a doubt, Fréquence pékinoise promises an intensely moving musical experience! Nothing could be truer, judging by the praise the concert has received from audiences, not to mention rave reviews (following a performance of the show, Stan Passfield, from the Orillia Concert Association, in Ontario, wrote: “many people were moved to tears. I have never witnessed this in a concert before,” while Steven Kennard, from the Evergreen Theatre, in Nova Scotia, claimed: “It is a rare and delightful experience, to have the opportunity to attend such a beautiful performance”).

Though the three performers offer sophisticated renditions of works by Debussy, Vivaldi, and de Falla, the real highlight, for the audience, is to discover the pipa, one of the most ancient traditional instruments from China (over 2,000 years old!) still in use. Virtuoso Yadong Guan delivers a magnificent solo on the instrument, followed by a few explanations to provide some insight into its many subtleties. Many years of training and practice are necessary to master the pipa, which shares some of the guitar’s playing techniques.

Aside from the exotic instrumental aspect of Fréquence pékinoise, the audience will be deeply moved by Yadong Guan’s soothing singing voice. Don’t miss this enchanting musical encounter of rare beauty and musical intensity!