Wu Wei
Video on demand from 29 May 2023

Songs for Phoenix: NDR Bigband featuring Wu Wei

Sheng virtuoso Wu Wei and the NDR Bigband play arrangements by chief conductor Geir Lysne.

In traditional Chinese philosophy, sheng stands for harmony, life itself and the singing phoenix. The sound of this mouth organ is said to resemble the song of the mythical bird: silvery and fleeting like the wind. Wu Wei is a master at making this song audible.

The NDR Bigband first heard his »singing« three years ago, and is looking forward to a reunion with the Chinese musician. As chief conductor Geir Lysne puts it: »Our first cooperation on the project ›Raum-Erlebnis‹ (Spatial Experience), when we explored acoustically and played in every corner of the Elbphilharmonie, was truly inspiring.«


NDR Bigband

Wu Wei Sheng, Erhu

Leitung Geir Lysne


»Songs for Phoenix«

Wu Wei Wu Wei © Liudmila Jeremies
NDR Bigband NDR Bigband © Michael Zapf / NDR
Geir Lysne Geir Lysne © Michael Zapf / NDR

The Programme

Air - the linking element

Wu Wei is a sensitive, creative and highly virtuoso musician, and for this exclusive programme he brings along the erhu, an instrument with two strings, in addition to his sheng. Geir Lysne has composed and arranged a programme inspired by both worlds. Air is one of the elements that links the big band to the sheng.

The sheng is a so-called mouth organ consisting of bamboo pipes, an instrument of the air and the wind. It was not built for European tonal systems in its original form, but Wu Wei plays an extended modern version of the sheng with 37 pipes and a new fingering system. It has a range of three octaves, enabling it to keep up with a full orchestra or a big band.

Songs for Phoenix – a magical programme

This is exactly what fascinates Wu Wei. He studied the sheng at the Shanghai Conservatoire and came to Berlin as a student in 1995 to get to know and explore Western musical traditions. He has continued to do so to this day, transporting a 3,000 year-old tradition into the 21st century with his brilliant playing. He goes on tour with world-famous orchestras like the Berlin Philharmonic or the Los Angeles Philharmonic, as well as with explicitly contemporary groups such as the French Ensemble Intercontemporain and the Ensemble Modern. New worlds of sound are the result.

An ancient Chinese tradition transported to the 21st century

One unique feature of the sheng is that the same pipes are heard when the player breathes in and when he breathes out; moreover, the sheng can play chords like its later relatives, the accordion and the harmonica. And it produces a phenomenal, pulsating rhythm as well. Wu Wei exploits all these features when he sets out on a musical voyage of discovery, be it with chamber or orchestral music, with a jazz formation or as a soloist.

Wu Wei has already been awarded many international prizes for his work, and CD recordings of his playing have been released by Deutsche Grammophon and Sony Classical. In 2017 he won the prize as China's Best Sheng Solist; he received an award from the Edinburgh Festival, and he has had the Global Root German World Music Prize of the Rudolstadt Festival on his shelf at home since 2004.

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