ListN Up Playlist: SHENSduo (March 7, 2024)

ListN Up is a series of artist-curated playlists that offer an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice.

SHENSduo (申思琵琶) is the dynamic duo of Shenshen Zhang and Sophia Shen, two award-winning pipa composer/performers. Based in the California Bay Area since 2021, SHENSduo is dedicated to originality and authenticity, creating genre-blending compositions, and engaging with a global audience. Their commitment extends to exploring new concepts and undiscovered potential, unbound by established rules or traditional norms.

Hello, we’re SHENSduo from the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m Shenshen Zhang, and I’m Sophia Shen. We are both composers and pipa performers. Today, we’re excited to share this playlist with you. It features our new compositions alongside some very special selections that have always held important places in our hearts. As composers and performers, we find constant inspiration and nourishment in music from various cultures, genres, and times. We hope you enjoy embarking on this listening journey with us. 

“Taqsîm En Maqâm: Nahawand-Kabîr” by Munir Bashir

Shenshen: The oud, a treasure from the ancient Middle East, embraces me with its pear-shaped body and resonant gut strings, creating an intimate connection. Its enchanting tones, warm and expressive, always touch my heart. The oud also holds a special place in my heart as the precursor to cherished instruments like the European lute and guitar, and the Chinese pipa. It’s not just a musical instrument: it’s a bridge connecting me to a world of cultural richness and musical evolution. Master Munir Bashir’s solo is a mesmerizing extension of this bridge.

“Ambush on Ten Sides,” performed by Shicheng Lin

Shenshen: Originating from the Middle East, the pipa arrived in China through the Silk Road Trade over two millennia ago, deeply embedding itself in Chinese culture across music, arts, and literature. The instrument also evolved significantly in structure, performance, and style. This classical masterpiece depicts a historical war scene from 202 B.C and is considered a touchstone for all pipa players. The rendition by my teacher and Master, Shicheng Lin (1922-2005) from the Pudong School, is a precious gem.

“The Way” by Shenshen Zhang, performed by SHENSduo

Shenshen: When I composed this pipa duet piece, my inspiration stemmed from the contemplation of pipa history, symbolizing a moment of introspection into life. This reflective journey includes an epiphany, prompting the profound question from Job 3:20: ‘Why is light given to one in misery, and life to the bitter in soul.” It’s a bittersweet feeling, and a grateful moment of reflection.

“Flowing Water” performed by Xiangting Li

Shenshen: Unlike the pipa’s origin, the qin is a plucked instrument with a 3,000-year history, holding a revered position in ancient Chinese culture and esteemed by literati for its elegance. In 2003, UNESCO recognized the qin as an intangible cultural heritage. Historically, this masterpiece often portrays a kindred spirit’s deep understanding of music. We are currently enjoying the qin Master Xiangting Li (1940) playing the Jiu Xiao Huang Pei, an eighth-century instrument.

“New South Africa” by Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn

Sophia: This banjo duet is one of my favorites. The intimacy and creativity expressed between these two instruments and amazing performers are what inspired me the most. The music takes me on a journey through different sceneries with structural and harmonic changes that are wildly unexpected.

鼓動(飛翔バージョン) by Yoshida Brothers

Shenshen: The shamisen is a traditional Japanese three-stringed instrument. I love the lower range sound of the shamisen. The plectrum’s penetrating power creates a unique appeal. The duo also evokes an immersive auditory experience of a rich cultural heritage while adapting seamlessly to modern creative musical expressions.

Sophia: The pure enthusiasm and sparkling energy of this piece and the duo are what illuminate me the most. The sound of the shamisen is captivating.

“Carnavalito” from Suite del recuerdo by José Luis Merlin, performed by Jason Vieaux

Sophia: A sibling of the lute family, guitar influences me a lot as a composer, especially its richness in harmony and tonal color. This piece impresses me as a solo work with its full sonority. The performance by Jason Vieaux really brings the carnival to life.

“Mountain Rain” by Sophia Shen, performed by SHENSduo

Sophia: As though it has been raining for months. The gloomy sky, humid air, and the hopeless gray. The moment when the sky clears, you find the long-lost fragrance and an increasingly translucent mind. This piece aims to capture this subtle state of mind, hoping to bring a moment of comfort to the listener through the genuine dialogue between the two pipas.


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