Home / Events / Washington Performing Arts presents the D.C. premiere of a new program from Wu Man and The Huayin Shadow Puppet Band

Washington Performing Arts presents the D.C. premiere of a new program from Wu Man and The Huayin Shadow Puppet Band

A rare and exhilarating experience of traditional Chinese culture, courtesy of some of China’s most celebrated artists, March 16 at GW Lisner Auditorium


Washington, D.C. One of the world’s foremost masters of the pipa (a Chinese lute), Wu Man takes the stage with China’s Huayin Shadow Puppet Band for a brand-new touring program at GW Lisner Auditorium on Friday, March 16, 2018 at 8:00pm, presented by Washington Performing Arts. Wu Man is well-known to U.S. audiences for her collaborations with Kronos Quartet and the Silk Road Ensemble. In this joyous multimedia program, she joins China’s Huayin Shadow Puppet Band—superstars in their home country—for an evening of traditional music and shadow puppetry. As the New York Times wrote of a 2009 Carnegie Hall performance, “Watching the musicians let fly on lutes, fiddles and gongs, as the singers roared through lively ballads recounting folk tales and myths, you were swept up by their energy and charisma.”


Wu Man is an internationally renowned pipa virtuoso, cited by the Los Angeles Times as “the artist most responsible for bringing the pipa to the Western World.” She is recognized as an outstanding exponent of traditional repertoire for the pipa, an instrument dating back more than two thousand years, as well as a leading interpreter of contemporary pipa music by today’s most prominent composers.


A number of years ago, Wu Man traveled to China’s remote regions to explore ancient musical traditions that are in danger of being lost and was captivated by the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band, known then as the Zhang Family Band. The band comprises farmers from Shaanxi Province’s Huayin County in a rural village at the foot of Mount Hua in northwest China. For more than 300 years, the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band has toured the countryside, bringing its rugged shadow puppet plays that call to life the mythical heroes and gods of the oral folk culture of Shaanxi, often evoking famous battles of the Tang dynasty (618–907), to temple fairs and rituals.


The shadow puppet plays are accompanied by “old tune” (laoqiang) traditional music with guttural and high-pitched singing (by senior singer Zhang Ximin) with a rough, mad spirit; percussion including clappers, cymbals and gongs; stringed instruments including the yueqin (moon-lute) and fiddle; the shawm, a double-reed instrument similar to the oboe; and a natural trumpet. This tradition first appeared during the Qing Dynasty under Emperor Qianlong (1736-1796) and has been passed down from generation to generation. For many years the shadow puppetry was part of the Zhang family household only, and not until recently has it been passed down to performers outside the family.


Wu Man brings the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band to the U.S. for only the second time (their first visit was in 2009 as the Zhang Family Band) in an effort to not only preserve this traditional art form, but also show its relevance in the 21st century. In this program, Wu Man performs both solo pipa and with the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band.


Wu Man returns to Washington Performing Arts’ season on Thursday, April 19, for a performance of the evening-length program “A Chinese Home” with Kronos Quartet, also at GW Lisner Auditorium.


The World In Our City

This performance is part of Washington Performing Arts’ World in Our City initiative, promoting cultural diplomacy in the nation’s capital through international mainstage performances, partnerships between the D.C. Public Schools and the diplomatic community via our signature Embassy Adoption Program, and local programming showcasing global artistry under the Mars Urban Arts Initiative.


LINGER LONGER! Join members of our Junior Board and other young professionals for an event either before or after this performance. Details TBA.

Washington Performing Arts performances at GW Lisner Auditorium are made possible by the Abramson Family Foundation.

 Washington Performing Arts is committed to making every event accessible for persons with disabilities. Please call the Washington Performing Arts Ticket Services Office for more information on accessibility to the various theaters in which our performances are held. 


About Wu Man and The Huayin Shadow Puppet Band

Recognized as the world’s premier pipa virtuoso and leading ambassador of Chinese music, Wu Man has carved out a career as a soloist, educator and composer giving her lute-like instrument—which has a history of over 2,000 years in China—a new role in both traditional and contemporary music. Through numerous concert tours Wu Man has premiered hundreds of new works for the pipa, while spearheading multimedia projects to both preserve and create awareness of China’s ancient musical traditions. Her adventurous spirit and virtuosity have led to collaborations across artistic disciplines allowing Wu Man to reach wider audiences as she works to break through cultural and musical borders. Wu Man’s efforts were recognized when she was named Musical America’s 2013 Instrumentalist of the Year, marking the first time this prestigious award has been bestowed on a player of a non-Western instrument.

Born in Hangzhou, China, Wu Man studied with Lin Shicheng, Kuang Yuzhong, Chen Zemin, and Liu Dehai at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she became the first recipient of a master’s degree in pipa. Accepted into the conservatory at age 13, Wu Man’s audition was covered by national newspapers and she was hailed as a child prodigy, becoming a nationally recognized role model for young pipa players. She subsequently received first prize in the First National Music Performance Competition among many other awards, and she participated in many premieres of works by a new generation of Chinese composers. Wu Man’s first exposure to western classical music came in 1979 when she saw Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing in Beijing. In 1980 she participated in an open master class with violinist Isaac Stern and in 1985 she made her first visit to the United States as a member of the China Youth Arts Troupe.

Wu Man joins the brilliant Huayin Shadow Puppet Band (formerly known as the Zhang Family Band) for performances of old tune traditional music with shadow puppetry, a practice that occurs mainly in Shaanxi Province Huayin County located in a small village at the foot of the Hua-Shan Mountain. Amid vocal performances, the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band uses the yueqin, banhu, erhu, lute, fiddle, and a variety of percussion instruments (including clappers, gongs, cymbals, and a wood bench) to tell lively stories of rural life in remote China.


About Washington Performing Arts

One of the most established and honored performing arts institutions in America, Washington Performing Arts celebrated its 50th Anniversary in the 2016/17 season, building upon a distinguished history of serving artists, audiences, students, and civic life. The city is truly our stage: in venues ranging from concert halls and clubs to public parks, we present a tremendous range of artists and art forms, from the most distinguished symphony orchestras to both renowned and emerging artists in classical music, jazz, international genres, and dance.

Washington Performing Arts nourishes communities throughout the region by partnering with local organizations and other arts institutions, staging concerts and arts activities in the neighborhoods, involving internationally known main-stage performers in community programs, and presenting locally based artists to a wider audience. We place a premium on establishing artists as a continuing presence in the lives of both young people and adults through sustained residencies and educational programs.

Our achievements have been recognized with a National Medal of Arts and with two Mayor’s Arts Awards from the D.C. Government. We embark upon our next half-century with the goals of expanding our commitment to excellence and rededicating ourselves to the motto of our founder, Patrick Hayes: “Everybody in, nobody out.”