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Beibei Wang: A Journey Full of Surprises

  • Culture

By Jaydee Cozzi, MA Music

Next, the SOAS concert series took us on a very exciting journey across time with Beibei Wang as our tour guide. As the crowd flooded in and took their seats, excitement filled the air. An array of bold and beautiful red drums dominated the stage, beside them an assortment of stringed instruments from across the globe, whose names we later learn are the ruan, pipa, shamisen, oud and sanxian. Beside all the instruments a large quiet easel and canvas lay dormant. 

Seconds after Wang walks on stage, she spontaneously erupts into an atmospheric solo piece ‘Rolling Nut.’ The song was played traditionally on a large drum with sticks. With great dexterity and fluidity Wang manages to draw out a fantastic range of sounds and textures personifying the nuts on the drum’s and rim. Shortly after, the first guest Michael Skelton joins Wang on stage for the second song, ‘Bull fights Tiger.’ The duo each play one large drum, battling each other as bull and tiger. Their dynamics and strong movements are gripping. The audience lean in as suspense lays heavy in the air. The bull and the tiger occasionally jab their sticks towards one another, demonstrating their fury and rage. With two incredible opening acts, through a beautiful piece played by Skelton we are next introduced to the sanxian. We are also introduced to its history and its beginnings as a drum as well as its connection to the Shamisen. Later in the evening we are treated to a sanxian and shamisen duo, to hear their differences and similarities ourselves.

Next on stage arrives a third talented instrumentalist, Charlie Cawood. With Wang gliding across the gongs and drums and Carwood dancing on the strings of the pipa, we are treated to a beautiful piece entitled ‘Battle.’ For the duo’s next song, the focus moves from China to Turkey. Wang picks up a beautiful piece of percussion called ‘ceramic pot,’ and Carwood the oud.  Together they play ‘Imminent journey,’ a piece from a Turkish film called ‘Jara.’ As the evening progresses, we are taken to our next destination, Japan. Wang moves over to the Marimbula, and Skelton returns to play percussion for a piece entitled ‘Marimbula spiritual’ by Japanese composer Minoru Miki.

“The result, in the form of a striking piece, seemed to perfectly capture the flow and energy of the evening.”

The whole evening is filled with movement and surprises. The next surprise comes in the form of artist, Gwendolyn Kassenaar, while twirling, she bashes the gongs and makes her strident entrance on stage for the next performance, a music-plus-painting duet. While Wang dances above the drums at lighting speed, Kassenaar mirrors her movements and energy translating it onto the previously dormant canvas. The result, in the form of a striking piece, seemed to perfectly capture the flow and energy of the evening.

With standing ovations from the crowd, the night draws to a close. It truly was a journey full of surprises.

Photo Caption: Beibei Wang on the poster for the SOAS Concert Series (Credit: SOAS).

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