The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us


100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0072; fax (319) 384-0024

Release: Oct. 27, 2000

(BRODCASTERS: Pipa is pronounced PEE-pah)

University Symphony will feature traditional Chinese instrument on Nov. 8 concert

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The pipa, a traditional Chinese instrument with more than 2,000 years of history, will be featured when the University of Iowa Symphony plays its third concert of the 2000-2001 campus concert series at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8 in Clapp Recital Hall.

The pipa soloist will be Gao Hong, a graduate of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing who currently teaches at Metropolitan State University and MacPhail Center for the Arts in Minneapolis.

The concert, under the direction of William LaRue Jones, will be free and open to the public.

The pipa is a four-stringed pear-shaped musical instrument slightly resembling the European lute. One of the oldest musical instruments in the world, it appeared in Chinese texts more than 2,000 years ago. Bai Juyi, the most important poet of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), described pipa music and its techniques in his "Ode to the Pipa." The instrument has traveled throughout eastern Asia, and versions are found in Korea, Vietnam and Japan.

The technique for playing the pipa is characterized by spectacular finger dexterity. Using rolls, slaps, pizzicato, harmonics and other techniques performers can imitate a wide variety of sounds, from flowing water, conversing geese and trotting horses to Chinese gongs and drums and sounds of battle -- all sounds that have been used in descriptive pieces. The traditional Chinese orchestra generally includes an entire section of pipas. The pipa is also used in chamber ensembles, to accompany singing and dancing, and is a popular solo instrument.

The modern pipa has 30 frets which extend down the neck and onto the sound board, giving it a wide range and a complete chromatic scale. Compositions for the pipa have been handed down from generation to generation by individual artists and scholars, and new works are being written for the pipa by contemporary composers.

Gao Hong has performed throughout Europe, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, China and the United States in solo concerts and with symphony orchestras, jazz musicians and musicians from other cultures. A charismatic performer, she has made a great impression on Chinese and Western musicians alike.

Peoples’ Music of Beijing wrote, "like the famous Luoyang peony, she has gradually emerged as the best of all beautiful flowers. . . The more you listen, the more beautiful it gets." And Harry Chalmiers, a classical guitarist and the vice president of academic affairs at Berklee School of Music in Boston commented, "Gao Hong is not only a virtuoso performer of the highest order, she is also a charming and totally engaging educator. She is so obviously in love with her instrument, her music and her audience that it is simply impossible for the audience not to fall in love with her."

On the Nov. 8 concert, Gao will perform as an individual soloist and with the orchestra. She will play "Dragon Boat" for pipa alone by Lin Shicheng, a revered pipa master who was her teacher at the Central Conservatory. With orchestra she will play "Dance of the Yi" by Wang Huiran and the Concerto for pipa and strings by Tan Dun.

The orchestra will play "Tribal Dance" by Mao Yuen and conclude the concert with "Vetrate di chesa" (Church windows) by the 20th-century Italian Romantic composer Ottorino Respighi.

Dun’s concerto, which was premiered in Minneapolis in February, 2000, was created by the composer from his "Ghost Opera" for string quartet and pipa with water, stone, paper and metal. "Ghost Opera" was commissioned by the UI Hancher Auditorium in collaboration with the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the National Endowment for the Arts and performed by the Kronos Quartet with pipa player Wu Han in Hancher Feb. 10, 1996.

A native of China, Tan Dun worked as an arranger and fiddle-player in a Chinese opera troupe in Beijing. At the age of 19 he heard Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony for the first time and dreamed of becoming a composer. After studies at the Central Conservatory he received a fellowship to attend Columbia University. Now living in New York City, Tan has developed a personal musical language that is, in the words of one critic, "no longer national, not even international, but simply human."

Respighi (1879-1936) is best known for his large, colorful tone poems for virtuoso orchestra, including "The Fountains of Rome," "The Pines of Rome" and "Roman Festivals." These works reflect the influence of his teacher, the Russian composer Rimksy-Korsakov, as well as the music of his contemporaries Maurice Ravel and Richard Strauss. "Church Windows" has four movements inspired by scenes including "The flight to Egypt" and "St. Michael Archangel" from well known stained-glass windows in Italian churches.

Gao began her career as a professional musician at age 12. She has received many awards and honors, including First Prize in the Hebei Professional Young Music Performers Competition, an International Art Cup in Beijing; a McKnight Artist Fellowship for Performing Musicians, an Artist Assistance Fellowship from the Minnesota State Arts Board, an APPEX grant from UCLA’s Center for Intercultural Performance; a LIN (Leadership Initiatives in Neighborhoods) Grant from the St. Paul Companies; a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant; and an Asian Pacific Award. As a composer she has received commissions from the American Composers Forum, Ragamala Music and Dance Theater, and Theater Mu.

She has appeared at the Lincoln Center Festival; the San Francisco Jazz Festival; the Smithsonian Institution; the Next Wave Festival; Festival d’Automne a Paris in Paris and Caen, France; the International Festival of Perth, Australia; and the Festival de Teatro d’Europa in Milan, Italy. Her many world and U.S. premiere performances of pipa concerti include those with the Heidelberg (Germany) Philharmonic, the Women’s Philharmonic in San Francisco and the Portland (Maine) Symphony.

In addition, she performed in the Lincoln Center production of "The Peony Pavilion."

A UI music alumnus, Jones joined the faculty of the School of Music in 1997 as director of the University Symphony and director of orchestral studies. Prior to joining the UI faculty, Jones was the founding music director/administrator of the internationally recognized Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.

Jones is a highly honored musician, having received the Twin Cities Mayors’ Public Art Award, the American String Teachers Association Exceptional Leadership and Merit Award and the David W. Preuss Leadership Award. He has also been selected Musician of the Year by Sigma Alpha Iota , a music honorary society.

Jones is conductor of the Bloomington (Minn.) Symphony and has appeared as a guest conductor with the Minnesota Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Sinfonie Orchester AML-Luzern (Switzerland) and other orchestras around the world. He has conducted all-state and festival orchestras in 46 states and five Canadian provinces. He has been conductor-in-residence at the North Carolina School of the Arts and the University of Miami (Fla.).

Jones holds a Master of Fine Arts in music from the UI and a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

For information on UI arts events, visit on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at :Learn about Gao Hong and the Pipa at

To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <>.