"Chinese music is more melody than harmony or rhythm," Gao said. "In general, it's a single melodic line that goes up and down. In the Tan Dun concerto, he uses one of the Chinese folk tunes called 'Little Cabbage,' about a cabbage who lost her mother when she was 3 and was very sad.
"It's a very simple, pure line he combined with a Western tune which has a similar melody. He didn't change a note. But he also made use of a lot of rhythms."
Because the 15-minute piece is played with an orchestra, Gao will use amplification. "If I play by myself," she said, "I don't need it. But an orchestra is so big I do."
Since coming to the West, Gao also has appeared with many nontraditional groups to reach greater audiences.
"I've played with a jazz group or with Indian sitar or [Japanese] shakuhachi, sometimes even with an early music group," she said. "I've tried everything, because I want people to get to know the pipa. You have to be open to other audiences.
"Maybe people won't even come in the door if you play only traditional music. But if they see this concerto or this jazz band and there's a pipa, people will say, 'Wow, what's that instrument?' They'll become fascinated. It's opened a lot of doors for me."
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where: Pasadena Civic Auditorium, 300 E. Green St., Pasadena
Contact: (626) 584-8833