Biography

MIN XIAO-FEN
Biography

One of the key instruments in Chinese music, the pipa has a rich and storied legacy stretching back nearly two thousand years. Few artists have done more to both honor and reinvent that history than renowned pipa soloist, vocalist and composer Min Xiao-Fen. Classically trained in her native China, Ms. Min was an acclaimed traditional music soloist before relocating to the United States and forging a new path for her instrument alongside many of the leading lights in modern jazz, free improvisation, experimental and contemporary classical music.

In Ms. Min’s music, east and west, tradition and innovation, discipline and spontaneity, ancient past and unexplored future all flow together like streams joining in one vibrant river. The Village Voice has lauded her as an artist who “has taken her ancient Chinese string instrument into the future,” while the New York Times has raved that her singular work “has traversed a sweeping musical odyssey.” Min’s expressive, uncategorizable voice has found her collaborating with such inventive luminaries as Wadada Leo Smith, Derek Bailey, Randy Weston, John Zorn, Christian Marclay, DJ Spooky and Björk.

While she remains an in-demand interpreter of traditional Chinese repertoire, recording and performing with many of the world’s leading symphony orchestras, Min has found particular inspiration in discovering new settings for the ancient pipa. Min’s Blue Pipa Trio, with guitarist Steve Salerno and bassist Dean Johnson, offers a fresh perspective on a little-known history that predates her own. Taking legendary jazz trumpeter Buck Clayton’s influential tenure in China as a point of departure, the trio commingles Kansas City swing with the music of Li Jinhui, the “Father of Chinese popular music.” The project, titled “From Harlem to Shanghai and Back,” is a compelling blend of seemingly unrelated musical traditions, into which she also stirs influences of classic jazz and bluegrass.

Min’s 2012 album Dim Sum, her first release to focus solely on her own original compositions, spotlighted the staggering range and bold scope of her musical vision, with “musical dishes meant to touch the heart” inspired by the street sounds that she heard growing up in China. Her latest release, Mao, Monk and Me, is a deeply personal exploration of the music of Thelonious Monk, combined in fascinating ways with Chinese folk tunes and children’s songs remembered from her childhood in the ancient capital of Nanjing. The New York Times lauded the project as “a cross-cultural tour de force” and “a postclassical signpost to the future.”

In February 2018, Min premiered her original score for the 1934 Chinese silent film The Goddess, long thought lost but recently rediscovered and restored. Min’s eclectic score pairs her with acclaimed guitarist Rez Abbasi, who brings together influences from modern jazz, progressive rock and South Asian music. That major event followed a fruitful 2017, when – in addition to releasing Mao, Monk and Me – Min served as artist-in-residence with the Sound of Dragon Society at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, and was a guiding artists for the Creative Music Studio in New York, performing with founder Karl Berger and his CMS Improvisers Orchestra in the fall.

In May 2016, she was the principal soloist with Washington D.C.’s PostClassical Ensemble for the world premiere of Daniel Schnyder’s “Concerto for Pipa & Orchestra,” written expressly for Min by the Swiss-American composer. Author and concert producer Joseph Horowitz said the piece “seamlessly, ingeniously, and wittily transgresses boundaries of style and genre,” hailing Min as “a demonic virtuoso who deserves to be known and celebrated in every concert hall of consequence.”

Min came of age during the last years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), surrounded by a family of musicians and artists. Her father, Min Ji-Qian, was a respected professor and pipa master who trained his young daughter on the instrument, a four-stringed, pear-shaped lute with a uniquely striking and versatile sound. A gifted prodigy, she was chosen at only 17 to become principal soloist of the Nanjing Traditional Music Orchestra, winning the Jiangsu National Pipa Competition and becoming world-renowned as one of the principal proponents of traditional Chinese repertoire.

After more than a decade spent playing with the intense rigor and discipline of Chinese traditional music, Min decided to seek out new challenges and moved to the U.S. in 1992, living briefly in San Francisco before settling in New York City. With no concrete plans or connections and toying with the notion of giving up music for the visual arts, Min soon found herself crossing paths with some of the leading lights of avant-garde jazz and improvised music.

Min’s trial by fire came via a daunting graphic score written for her by Pulitzer Prize-nominated composer Wadada Leo Smith, the initial performance of which she describes as disastrous but exhilarating – presenting her with an entirely new approach to music that she’s spent the ensuing decades delving into.

Within a few years she began recording with such visionary musicians as guitarist/improviser Derek Bailey, prolific and anti-idiomatic saxophonist/composer John Zorn, African music-influenced jazz pianist/composer Randy Weston, Medeski Martin & Wood percussionist Billy Martin, and in Wadada Leo Smith’s extraordinary trio Mbira. In addition, she’s worked in a variety of contexts with a stunning array of forward-looking artists, including trombonist George Lewis, saxophonists Jane Ira Bloom and Ned Rothenberg, guitarists Marc Ribot and Elliott Sharp, violinists Regina Carter and Jason Kao Hwang, bassist Mark Dresser, pianists Jon Jang and Daniel Kelly, komungoist Jin Hi Kim, sound artists Carl Stone and DJ Spooky, and sound and visual pioneer Christian Marclay. Idiosynractic singer Björk enlisted Min to play on her 2007 album Volta and later invited her to perform as a special guest at Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall.

Still a world-renowned performer of traditional Chinese repertoire, Min has been a featured soloist with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Pacific Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Amiens Chamber Orchestra (France) and Nieuw Ensemble (Holland), among many others. She premiered Tan Dun’s opera “Peony Pavilion” with director Peter Sellars in 1998, Anthony De Ritis’ pipa concerto “Ping Pong” with the Taipei Chinese Music Orchestra in 2004 and Huang Ruo’s “Written on the Wind” for Meet the Composer in 2008. She has also premiered the works of such noted composers as Chen Yi, Zhou Long, Bun-Ching Lam and Philip Glass.

As a composer, Min received a commission in 2007 for “Return of the Dragon” from The Kitchen in New York, while her composition “Ghost Masks” was commissioned and performed by Min–Wu–Xu at the Glatt & Verkehrt Festival in Krems, Austria in 2008. She has received awards from Meet the Composer, Asian Cultural Council and The Peter S. Reed Foundation, and served as curator at John Zorn’s venue The Stone and the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City.

Min has taught master classes and been an artist-in-residence at schools and universities across the United States and Europe, including the Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, Boston Conservatory, The New School, Columbia University, Haystack Mountain School of Arts & Crafts, James Madison University, Wellesley College, University of California at San Diego, Brooklyn Friends School, Amsterdam Conservatory and University of Gothenburg.

She is the founder of Blue Pipa Inc. (www.bluepipa.org) and currently lives in New York.

(Short bio with 300 words)

Few artists have done more to both honor and reinvent the 2000-year history of the pipa than renowned soloist, vocalist and composer Min Xiao-Fen. Classically trained in her native China, Min was an in-demand interpreter of traditional music before relocating to the United States and forging a new path for her instrument alongside many of the leading lights in modern jazz, free improvisation, experimental and contemporary classical music. The Village Voice has lauded her as an artist who “has taken her ancient Chinese string instrument into the future,” while the New York Times has raved that her singular work “has traversed a sweeping musical odyssey.”

Ms. Min’s expressive approach to the four-stringed lute has led to collaborations with such inventive luminaries as Wadada Leo Smith, Derek Bailey, Randy Weston, John Zorn, Christian Marclay, DJ Spooky and Björk. Her Blue Pipa Trio commingles legendary trumpeter Buck Clayton’s Kansas City swing with the music of Li Jinhui, the “Father of Chinese popular music,” in a project titled “From Harlem to Shanghai and Back.” Min’s 2012 album Dim Sum spotlighted the stunning scope of her original compositions, while her latest release, Mao, Monk and Me, is a deeply personal exploration of the music of Thelonious Monk combined with Chinese folk tunes and children’s songs remembered from her childhood in the ancient capital of Nanjing.

In May 2016, Min was the principal soloist with Washington D.C.’s PostClassical Ensemble for the world premiere of Daniel Schnyder’s “Concerto for Pipa & Orchestra,” written expressly for Min by the Swiss-American composer. Still a revered performer of traditional Chinese repertoire, she has been a featured soloist with a number of leading symphony orchestras.

In February 2018, Min premiered her original score, a duo with acclaimed guitarist Rez Abbasi, for the long-lost 1934 Chinese silent film The Goddess. That major event follows a fruitful 2017, when Min served as artist-in-residence with the Sound of Dragon Society at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, and was a guiding artists for the Creative Music Studio in New York, performing with founder Karl Berger and his CMS Improvisers Orchestra in the fall. Min is the founder of Blue Pipa Inc. (www.bluepipa.org) and currently lives in New York.

(Short bio with 150 words)

Few artists have done more to both honor and reinvent the 2000-year history of the pipa than renowned soloist, vocalist and composer Min Xiao-Fen. An in-demand interpreter of traditional music before relocating to the United States, Min has forged a new path for her instrument in modern jazz, free improvisation, and contemporary classical music. The Village Voice lauded her as an artist who “has taken her ancient Chinese string instrument into the future.”

Ms. Min has collaborated with such inventive luminaries as Wadada Leo Smith, Derek Bailey, Randy Weston, John Zorn, Christian Marclay, DJ Spooky and Björk. Her Blue Pipa Trio commingles Kansas City swing with Chinese popular music, while her latest release, Mao, Monk and Me, is a deeply personal exploration of Thelonious Monk’s music. Min has been a featured soloist with leading symphony orchestras and recently premiered her score for the long-lost 1934 Chinese silent film The Goddess. Min is the founder of Blue Pipa Inc. (www.bluepipa.org) and currently lives in New York.

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