Book Lover’s Ball

I did promise there might be a bit of news on Monday. And I’m able to announce, as it is online now.

This isn’t anything major, but it pleases me for a few reasons. Each February in Toronto the Book Lover’s Ball takes place. It is a black tie gala fundraiser for the Toronto Public Library system. There are 50 (very expensive) tables, mostly corporate commitments, and 50 authors (mostly not incorporated!) attend, one at each table. They do a red carpet, take classy photos (sometimes not so classy, the Toronto Star last year decided to be playful with lenses), auction items for a very good cause. It is an evening I’m always happy to be a part of.

The main BLB webpage is here:

Each year they also offer entertainment inspired by 5 or 6 books by authors attending. This year they picked River of Stars as one of these.

That’s nice in itself, but then something even better happened. There’s a backstory.

When I was researching Under Heaven I came across a refernce to a historical change in the way the pipa was played (it is often called the Chinese lute here). I love bits of information like this. Some may recall a scene in Sailing to Sarantium where there is an argument about the best way to lay down a ‘setting bed’ for mosaic tesserae, the traditional one or something new. That was exactly the same thing, for me. A chance to do something with character and, er, setting by way of the debate and transition.

So in my slightly crazed fashion I started trying to find experts in the pipa who might tell me something about this. I came across the website of a performer named Liu Fang, Chinese-born and trained, living in Montreal, recording widely, hugely admired, and performing around the world.

I wrote her (of course) and she wrote me back a lovely email full of interesting information. We kept in touch. She and her husband/manager, Risheng, both read Under Heaven when it came out and were wonderfully enthusiastic about it. I bought her music (she sent me other CDs), we attended a concert of hers here in Toronto and met them both.

Long story shorter, I dropped her a note when the BLB people indicated they wanted to do ‘something’ this year with River of Stars. Usually Fang is in Europe in winter, and she will be by late February. But she’s in Canada before that, and said she’d be delighted to be part of the gala fundraiser and to be connected to River of Stars. I put the BLB showrunners in touch with them, everyone clicked and coordinated, and on February 7th, Liu Fang will be coming into Toronto to perform a solo pipa number at the Book Lover’s Ball in honour of River of Stars.

I couldn’t be happier about all this. She an exquisite performer, a truly classy person, and the number she’s chosen is just perfect for evoking the book. None opf this counts as ‘major news’ but sometimes the book world gives you connections and moments that feel just right, seriously cool, and this looks to be one of them. We’re hoping to be able to get a recording that night, to share.

Her website is here. Listen to what she can do on the pipa and the guzheng. There’s a video of a concert she gave in St Petersburg recently, too.


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