Silk and Bamboo Ensemble | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Silk and Bamboo Ensemble


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The name of this local group refers to materials used in instruments common to almost all major musical traditions of mainland China: Silk bows are used for the vertical fiddles, a mainstay in Chinese ensembles in much the same way the violins are in a Western orchestra. And bamboo has long been the material of choice for the wind instruments. In this sampler recital, offered as a sideshow to the Cultural Center's survey of art from 90s China, the Silk and Bamboo Ensemble's five musicians will play 16 instruments, including the erhu, a popular vertical fiddle, the heng xiao, a horizontal woodwind, and the lutelike pipa. Their program, culled by music director Shen Sin-yan (no relation to this writer) from the ensemble's extensive, historically informed repertoire, is meant to demonstrate the regional and stylistic variety of Chinese music, often mistakenly thought of in the West as an exotic monolith. Listen to one of the selections, "Rain Drops on the Plantain"--an early Cantonese instrumental that apes nature--and you'll find the dueling between the gaohu (a vertical fiddle made of python skin) and the yangqin (a hammered dulcimer) as intricate and bracing as an inspired jazz jam session. "Processional" is a ceremonial anthem from the 13th century, yet like an Indian raga, it allows the musicians plenty of leeway to improvise. And "Moon Crescent Before Dawn" is clearly a virtuoso tour de force: the yangqin soloist conjures up a whole range of odd, unsettling emotions through cascades of glissandi. Lee Yuan-yuan, the yangqin master in this concert, and several of the other instrumentalists were recruited from China and Taiwan by Shen--who quit a gig as a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory ten years ago to pursue Chinese musicology full-time. Sunday, 3 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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