Betty Xiang and Yang Wei | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Betty Xiang and Yang Wei 

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In their native China, Betty Xiang and Yang Wei were esteemed soloists with the National Shanghai Orchestra--she on the two-stringed, violinlike erhu, he on the lutelike pipa--but around six years ago, the couple decided to make a fresh start in America. They've adapted swiftly to Western idioms, playing alongside guitar, piano, violin, and even Western period instruments (for a collaboration with the Newberry Consort last winter); they've transcribed and performed both Bach and the Beatles. On pipa Yang can tease out a breathtaking tremolo, the notes rushing together in a stream, or linger over a stately melody; he's as playful as he is eloquent, sometimes even imitating the sounds of birds and rain. As befits her instrument, Xiang is a less extroverted but equally affecting player--the erhu lends itself to graceful musings and melancholy utterances. This program includes two pieces by Lu Pei, a Chinese composer based at the University of Michigan, both of which call on the pipa and erhu to play the roles of guitar and fiddle, combining gestures borrowed from blues and jazz with folk songs from America and China; Ballad Variations is scored for the duo alone, while The Lofted Moon adds violin and piano. Zhu Jian-er's Water of Life, also for pipa and erhu, follows a more traditional course, onomatopoetically invoking water imagery from classical Chinese verse; as if to confirm the parallels between its shimmering textures and the sonic language of French impressionism, it's followed by Ravel's Violin Sonata, performed by Chicago Symphony Orchestra assistant concertmaster Yuan-Qing Yu and pianist Elizabeth Buccheri. Yang and Xiang will also play one of their Bach transcriptions, a lively cello suite rescored for pipa and erhu, and honor a Chinese custom by performing excerpts from famous traditional tunes, solo and as a duet, to demonstrate their instruments' roles. Sunday, January 27, 2 PM, Fullerton Hall, Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan and Adams; 312-443-3600 or 312-443-3680.

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