The Chinese lute, Pipa, is said to have already existed in the year 221 BC, in the Qin Dynasty, the time when Emperor Shih Huang Ti brought the provinces to gether under one rule. It means the instrument has a history of over two thousand years. As with most other instruments, it has evolved over time to become what it is today. There are 4 strings in high notes of A, E, D and A. This type of tuning is said to be a recent innovation. The strings were originally made of silk but now they are made of steel. The body is made of red sandalwood. Seeing that the same wood was used for old Chinese lutes, one assumes it creates the best vibrations and therefore is the most appropriate material for the instrument. As for the fret, the neck part is made of bull horn and the body part, of bamboo. The instrument lute is also found in Japan. Both Chinese and Japanese instruments are shaped like loquats but there are differences in how they are played. In order to play the Japanese lute, a fan shaped pick is used but with the Chinese lute, special artificial nails are put on the finger tips. It is perhaps due to the fact that the Japanese lute was played in accompaniment to singing with strong accents on each note while the Chinese lute used to play melodies.
In this album, the beautiful Chinese lute music is played by the female lute player Shao Rong from Shanghai. Born in Shanghai, she started taking lessons in piano at five years of age and lessons in lute at the age of ten. When she was in the 2nd year of her junior high school, a new junior high school under the wings of Beijing National Central Music Institute was established. Wishing to become independent of her parents, she took the transfer exams. Twenty thousand students took the entrance exams and only twelve passed. And out of the twelve, only five got to go the university. Shao Rong was one of these students. She had proved herself a genius.
After graduating from the university, she joined The National Shanghai Folk Band as a soloist. She won "The Artistic Excellence Prize" at the Shanghai Art Festival. Then in order to experience a fresh environment for her music, she chose Japan. She became a student of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. After graduation, she performed as a soloist for The Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in the performance of "Marco Polo" composed by Tan Dun, and invited to the Pan Pacific Music Festival, she played her lute, giving her first performance for "The Cocerto of Lute and String Orchestra" also composed by Tan Dun, winning world-wide attention. At the present she is based in Tokyo and is active on stages all over the world, performing in concerts in Asia, America and Europe.
Her style of performance comprises of the tremolo method which uses all five fingers ("Rinshi"), something original to the Chinese lute. It makes the instrument sound sometimes like a mandolin, sometimes whimsical like banjo. Her vi
brant music and the sensitive yet dramatic performance will just mesmerize the audience.
Al the pieces recorded in this album are original compositions except for the "Precious Moon". The bringing together of classical folk instruments like "guzheng", "erhu", "dizi" and "shakuhachi" with western type of instruments like
piano, guitar and base is refreshing and brings out the unique and rich power of expression contained in the lute. The shimmering, shining sounds of the lute and the somewhat melancholy melodies lead you to dreaming of foreign exotic lands.