Chinese pipa virtuoso featured in CBC documentary

Wendy Wen Zhao, who teaches the Chinese pipa in York University’s world music program, is featured in The Four Seasons Mosaic, a new documentary airing tonight at 8pm on CBC Television’s “Opening Night”.

Right: Wendy Wen Zhao

This cross-cultural performing arts special takes viewers on a tour of world music traditions by performed by Canadian artists. Commissioned by Canada’s celebrated baroque orchestra, Tafelmusik, to reflect Toronto’s diversity, The Four Seasons Mosaic visits India, China, the Arctic and Toronto to explore how different world cultures have responded to the seasons through music. The program culminates in a unique multicultural collaborative performance written by award-winning Toronto composer Mychael Danna, based on Vivaldi’s classical masterpiece The Four Seasons.

Zhao, an internationally recognized pipa virtuoso who combines eastern and western classical traditions in her music-making, was born in Beijing, China. She began playing pipa at age seven and soon after launched her performance career with the China Children’s Orchestra of National Music. Zhao advanced her studies with pipa master Wang Fan Di at Beijing Normal University and subsequently at the University of London, becoming the first qualified Chinese music instructor in the United Kingdom. Since coming to Toronto in 1997, she has continued to pursue her career as an educator and performer on the world music stage. Zhao has appeared in festivals worldwide, including Switzerland, France, England and across North America, and has toured extensively with Tafelmusik in Canada and with the London Grand Union Orchestra in the UK.

One of the oldest and most popular traditional Chinese instruments, the pipa is a fretted, four-stringed lute that dates back some 2,000 years. Classical pipa music was often inspired by written texts or poems, and pipa performance technique is characterized by spectacular finger dexterity and a wide range of virtuosic programmatic effects. Though much pipa repertoire has been lost through the centuries, some scores have been preserved, handed down from generation to generation. Contemporary composers are contributing new works to the repertoire, including solo and chamber settings as well as scores for pipa and orchestra.