The Chinese erhu has just two strings. Its neck is thin and long, its sound-box base is small, the resonator is made of snakeskin and the bow of horsehair.
The erhu, which first appeared as a
musical instrument 1,000 years ago, looks frail. But the musical relic
bears a heavy load when in the hands of Karen Han.
It is with the
erhu that Han speaks about love, peace and beauty through music. And were
it not for the erhu -- a precursor to the violin -- Han, whose first
language is Chinese, would not be the communicator she is today. The
virtuoso erhu player will perform Oct. 19-21 in a world premiere program
of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Concerto for Erhu and Chamber
Orchestra," at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. The performance is part of the
Eclectic Orange Festival, sponsored by the Philharmonic Society of Orange
County. The concert will also include a West Coast premiere of composer
Tan Dun's "Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra in Memory of Toru
Takemitsu," with soloist David Cossin.
On Tuesday, Han will also
perform a solo at Borders Books, Music & Cafe in Costa Mesa to
demonstrate the erhu's sounds and its traditions.
"I feel there's a
lot of things sometimes I cannot use my voice or speech to talk about,"
the Walnut resident said. "But my music will explain it. My instrument is
kind of like my equipment to get in more contact [with] the
Han moved to the United States from China in 1988. By then,
she had become the youngest musician to earn a master's degree from the
prestigious Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Her child-prodigy
reputation and talents had even touched dignitaries such as Luciano
Pavarotti, Margaret Thatcher and former president Jimmy Carter.
30-something musician caught Hollywood's attention when her participation
in the soundtrack for the "Last Emperor" helped the score garner an
Though the score for "Crouching Tiger" was originally
written by Tan Dun with the erhu in mind, Han is not on the score. The
filmmakers decided to go with Yo-Yo Ma playing a cello
However, her television and film credits do include
performances in the "Little Mermaid," "The Joy Luck Club," "Hercules" and
the documentary "Pavarotti in China."
"I feel very pleased to be
living in this world, especially after coming to America [because] there's
lots of love I received from the audience, from the people, from the
composers, from the musicians," Han said.
She also enjoys her
When Han left China, she abandoned a more restricted
musical upbringing where music was supposed to be a certain way. Since the
age of six, when she first learned to play the erhu following in her
father's footsteps, Han had always adhered to the instruction of a
teacher. She inserted vibratos only when her teacher said she should. She
played everything the "correct" volume.
But moving to America and
learning American techniques gave her a musical freedom. In fact, Han has
even combined the erhu with genres including jazz and new age.
I even play a little bit more longer than the bar the composer wrote," Han
said. "I just follow my mood and my feeling. Just trying to show the love
I can show."
And she has a lot of it. Enough to
"Especially in America, people work so hard, they have not
enough time to have the chance to think deeply [about] what they want,"
Han said. "The feeling that what I wanted to tell people is that how much
love there is in this world. There's much more love than they
Her message seems to be getting out. Rose Cheung, a
Chinese-American board member of Bravi 9, a nonprofit group that promotes
cross-cultural understanding through the arts, bestows Han a comparison to
"When he plays cello, you can see his emotion," said the
Irvine resident, whose group is a sponsor of the "Crouching Tiger"
concert. "Same thing with Karen. You could tell. She's truly emotionally
involved and the audience can feel that directly."
For Han, this
means her mission is accomplished.
"Music is [an] instrument," she
said. "To feel deeper, to feel more, to be more sensitive to each
WHAT: Karen Han will perform
WHEN: 7 p.m.
Tuesday at Borders Books, Music & Cafe; 8 p.m. Oct. 19 and 20 and 3
p.m. Oct. 21 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre
WHERE: Borders, 3333
Bear St., Costa Mesa. Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive,
COST: Borders -- free; Barclay -- $38 or $33