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Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
Henri Delbeau
Music Reviews
Carnegie Hall
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

Boston Symphony Orchestra

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower, Henri Delbeau
March 10, 2003
Carnegie Hall
881 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10019
(212) 632-0540

Boston Symphony Orchestra


Tan Dun, Conductor
Yo-Yo Ma, Cello

Performed at Carnegie Hall
881 Seventh Avenue
NY, NY 10019

By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower and Contributing Music Critic, Dr. Henri Delbeau
March 10, 2003

As a native Bostonian, I and my family have been longtime fans of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, not only in Boston and on tour, but also at the Tanglewood Festival in the Berkshires, MA. Tan Dun began his musical career with the Peking Opera and holds a Doctoral Degree from Columbia University. His music is world-renowned, and he wrote the Oscar-winning score for Ang Lee's film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He specializes in multi-cultural and multi-media programs with emerging music. He has been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to write an opera for 2006. Mr. Dun has served as Artistic Director of the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music and records exclusively on Sony Classical. For many years, Yo-Yo- Ma and Tan Dun have collaborated on musical projects. (Carnegie Hall Notes).

Yo-Yo Ma is also world-renowned as a solo cellist, a musician with Chamber Ensembles and Orchestras, and as an educator, as he organizes educational programs for young audiences. Mr. Ma has created the Silk Road Project (www.silkroadproject.org) that promotes the study of artistic, cultural, and intellectual traditions along the ancient trade route that connects Europe and Asia. Mr. Ma was born in Paris to Chinese parents and studied cello with his father at the age of four, when he moved with his family to New York, his current residence. His teacher was Leonard Rose at Juilliard, and he graduated from Harvard. (Carnegie Hall Notes).

Tonight's program consisted of Overture on Russian and Kirghiz Folk Themes by Shostakovich, The Seasons, Ballet in One Act, by John Cage, Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, by Benjamin Britten, prior to the piece by Tan Dun, with soloist, Yo-Yo Ma. The Shostakovich piece, homage to the music of Kirghizia, which borders China, was quite festive, with an Asian motif, and a good beginning to a very solemn and esoteric program. The Cage piece reminded me of Toshiko Akiyoshi's Four Seasons (See Birdland Review). In this piece, a prepared piano was combined with a celesta, played by one pianist in one chair, as she divided her time between keyboards. The Tam-tam and xylophone gave this piece a clearly Asian sound. Gita Sarabhai, Cage's mentor (he was a Zen Buddhist, who consulted the I Ching, Book of Changes), told him "the purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, making it susceptible to divine influences". (Carnegie Hall Notes). The sounds of the Chinese gong were symbolic of the Asian cultural influences in Cage's life.

The Britten piece reminded me of Debussy's La Mer. The volume and passion of the sea built into amazing crescendos, replete with chimes and gongs. Clearly, Mr. Dun created an entire program that beautifully and comprehensively celebrated the culture of his Chinese background. The sounds of sea storms were prevalent, perhaps roaming ocean life, in more tranquil moments, as well as a tremendous influence of the nine cellos, the gong, and the trombones. Kudos to the percussionists, trombonists, and cellists.

Tan Dun's The Map, Concerto for Cello, Video, and Orchestra, was a NY Premiere tonight of a most brilliant and eclectic program. This piece was commissioned for Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra and derived from the music and culture of an ancient village in Southwest China. In 1981, Tan Dun traveled to Hunan to recapture the music of his youth, while a student at Beijing's Central Conservatory, and he met a practitioner of ba gua stone drumming, and ancient ritual in which the musician talks to the future and past lives. When Mr. Dun returned to Hunan, two decades later, to film this ancient practice, the man had died. (Carnegie Hall Notes).

Mr. Dun created a documentary video, with Davey Frankel, of the musical life of the Tuija, Miao, and Dong cultures in China, which combines vocal, instrumental, and environmental sounds. (Carnegie Hall Notes). The music from the orchestra and the solo cello enhance the large video screened documentary, which fades in and out of the ten sections of this work. There are also small video screens strategically placed onstage for the benefit of the viewers on the far sides of the orchestra. On the video, one sees singers, wailing and vocalizing, dancers, street performers, musicians who play bamboo leaves, as instruments, and acrobats.

Yo-Yo Ma was splendidly focused and perfectly chosen for this commissioned Premiere. Mr. Ma and Mr. Dun were in constant touch with each other's timing and mood. I was extremely impressed with Mr. Ma's tonal intonations and ability to create passion in dissonance. At times I could not tell when the musicians were performing and when the video sounds were prevalent, but that was an excellent result of the overall ability of Mr. Dun to mesh his acoustical and technical resources.

Comments by Dr. Henri Delbeau:

(See Review, See Interview)

The Map, Concerto for Cello, Video and Orchestra, is described as a "musical journey." The renowned composer Mr. Dun, draws upon his experiences and knowledge in the realm of traditional Chinese music to produce a unique, evocative expression of the melding of the old and the new, which takes on not only musical, but philosophical and cultural dimensions.

Using a videotape of performances by traditional Chinese musicians (the tape used because of logistical problems in recruiting the actual performers), Mr. Dun incorporates their performances sequentially (using various musical instruments/devices such as a blowing leaf, cymbals, antiphonal/tongue singing, bamboo, mouth organ) in combination with a lushly scored orchestra, often dove-tailing and echoing the featured performance medium. The orchestration was richly imaginative, with clever use of the sounding potential of all instruments. Though reminiscent of the ancient styles, Mr. Dun is unequivocally a contemporary composer who has created a fascinating musical journey aptly describing his own reflections on the interaction of the old and the new.

Mr. Ma as the cello soloist was masterful. His chameleon-like command and manipulation of the colors of the cello were remarkable, and his soaring melodic lines were inspirational. He continues on his quest to expand on what it is to be a musician, his musical perspective/views being undoubtedly one of the more global ones. So, Mr. Dun and Mr. Ma continue their long collaboration, and we would look forward to their working together in the future.

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