About Us

lute picThe Lute Legends Collective is a performing association of musicians who represent ancient plucked-string traditions.

Our Philosophy

Each member of our collective is a committed carrier of an ancient musical tradition, whether it be the virtuosic modal improvisation of the Middle East, the intricate polyphony of the European Renaissance and Baroque, or the picturesque musical depiction of nature from China.  Though instruments such as the oud, lute, & pipa each have evolved a distinct set of techniques and sounds, we delight in recognizing that most of our instruments are long-lost cousins.  The Lute Legends Collective is our way of reuniting them onstage in a cross-traditional musical experiment for the twenty-first century.


Our History

The Collective’s directors are lutenist Lucas Harris and pipa player Wen Zhao, who met in 2004 performing together for the Tafelmusik Four Seasons Mosaic project, and shortly afterwards performed a duo recital.  They have been friends and collaborators ever since, performing together as a duo in Canada as well as China.  In 2008 they released the duo CD Lute Legends: Ancient Airs From East and West.

In 2012, this duo expanded with the addition of the Middle-Eastern oud, the “grandfather” of the lute and pipa, and thus was born the Lute Legends Ensemble.  This trio played in various Toronto venues and was an invited guest of Vancouver Early Music and other festivals.

Enter the Lute Legends Collective in 2022, a model that opens up exciting new possibilities.  We have now expanded our membership to include more plucked instrument traditions, including those of the Indian sarod and the African kora.  A flexible format allows the group to perform in various sizes and combinations according to the needs of particular projects.

lute pic lute pic lute pic

Our Goals

goals image

It’s certainly possible that some combinations of our instruments would have sounded together centuries ago, such as the a pipa player jamming together with an oud player somewhere along the old Silk Road.  However, our aim is less to recreate history and more to delight in creating a new arena where these old instruments can make music together.  For this to work, the players must be willing to adapt or go beyond the traditional techniques of their instrument: you might see Wen adapting the pipa’s five-finger tremolo to approximate a Baroque trill, or Lucas sliding between frets to mimic Chinese pitch bending.

In this sort of exchange, each us continues to carry forward our own musical tradition while also enjoying a special invitation to experience other musical traditions from the inside.  Usually the result is that we are instilled with a new curiosity about these other traditions as well as a clearer view of what makes our own tradition unique.  

It almost goes without saying that this kind of cross-cultural musical collaboration provides a model for how members of diverse cultures can engage with one another in our globalized world.  We believe it is for this reason that our performances often receive standing ovations: a cross-cultural musical experiment such as ours inspires audiences with optimism and hope for a world where diverse cultures do not clash but rather resonate together with mutual respect and curiosity.

Our Process

process image

We are well aware that our instruments are not designed to play together!  The lute cannot bend pitches on its double-strung courses like the pipa; the (fretted) pipa & lute struggle to play the (fretless) oud’s quarter tones, and the oud’s plectrum technique can’t easily realize the polyphonic textures of a Renaissance fantasia plucked by a lutenist’s fingers.

And yet there are always work-arounds.  A lutenist can approximate a pitch bend using glissandi, a pipa can bend up to a quarter tone, and an oud player can revoice or rearrange the elements of polyphony.  And that’s where the fun begins. 

In a Lute Legends rehearsal, one of the players will introduce a traditional piece from his/her own instrument’s tradition, and will assume the role of “coach” for that piece.  Often the “coach” brings a printed score in Western notation, but the most useful information comes when they explain and demonstrate the piece’s stylistic elements which are so often impossible or impractical to notate on the page.  The “coach” invites the other musicians into his/her tradition, encouraging them to use the techniques and resources of their own instruments to adapt.  Working together and sharing ideas, we build a compelling arrangement which uses each instrument’s strengths and resources.

Lute Legends has also commissioned new works, including Andrew Donaldson’s Parables and Demetri Petsalakis’s In Hope for Peace.