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2015年9月8日 星期二

Tan Dun's Opening of our 2015 HKPO Season (譚盾之港樂2015樂季"開鑼" )

Tan Dun comes from Hunan, a province which I just visited. There I found numerous men who share his roundish head.  Some of them are so round that you could easily imagine that if they were not heads but balls on the ground, they could be kicked hither and thither without the slightest difficulties. But that's probably where their similarities end.  No, may be not. I'm positive that Tan Dun hasn't lost his predilection for chillies.  How could he? There's hardly any dish in Hunan where you would not find in varying quantities those long tapers in red, green, yellow and even white which burn your tongue and your throat. But apart from those, they can't be any more different because to me at least, there are hardly any contemporary Chinese composers who are bolder and more innovative than Tan in seeking out the sonic qualities of all kinds of musical instruments or even non-musical instruments like tyre-rings  capable of producing percussive sounds ,even folded paper which are blown and water which drips and  somehow incorporating them into his music.  So I arrived at the concert hall last Saturday full of expectations because the HKPO 2015 season would open with two of his works: Symphonic poem on three notes and Nu-Shu: the secret songs of women.


Symphonic poem on Three Notes is piece Tan wrote in 2012 for Placido Domingo for his 70th birthday. He got the inspiration for this poem from Placido's name without the initial letter 'p" producing "lacido", the three notes in  A, B and C. Around these three notes he played a number of variations by different sections of the orchestra with plenty of percussions, as is his style, a story of birth, not just of human life but all kinds of life from the beginning of the universe up to the present with different kinds of motifs built around the three notes of A, B and C and with varying rhythms.

The next piece of the evening was a familiar piece. it's Mendelssohn's (1809-1847)  Violin Concerto in E Minor Op 64. in Allegro molto apassionato, Andante, Allegretto non troppo--Allegro molto vivace, premiered in 1845. It was done by a very young and talented Chinese violinist Zehu Victor Li (b 1996) who studied violin from age 4 and went on to further his skills at the Curtis Institute in New York and had since won various international prizes as a young artist. He is technically very good but he can be excused if there is not much emotional depth in his playing, especially in the slow passages.  After all, he's just 19! But I'm sure he will have a bright future ahead of him.

The highlight of the evening should be Tan's work Nu Shu. In fact, Nu Shu is a kind of secret language which is spoken, sung and written with special slant like strokes amongst women of the Miu clan through which they can communicate their most intimate feminine feelings to one another: their joys, their sorrows, their hopes and their fears, their memories, their regrets etc, something which is transmitted from one generation of women to another orally and by demonstrative practices. It was very useful at a time when men still play the role of the dominant partner in domestic and social relations and is now nearly extinct. Like Dvorak, Tan Dun is a huge collector of folk musical traditions which he would digest and incorporate into his music in a most original way. That shows in Nu Shu, in which made use of various themes and melodies from his collection. In producing this piece of very original music, he solicited the help of the American harpist Elizabeth Hainent to be the soloist to represent the Miu women  and Zhang Xinru, a metal percussionist who would at different stages in the music produce rhythmic support by striking gongs, tubular bell, and even a tyre-ring!

The piece consist of 13 episodes depicting the life of a Miu clan women, young and old viz. Secret Fan, Mother's  Song, Dressing for the Wedding, Cry-singing for Marriage, Nu Shu Village, Longing for her sister, a Road without End, Forever Sisters, Daughter's Rivers, Grandma's Echo, the Book of Tears, Soul Bridge and Living in the Dream. The titles of the episodes are suggestive but the music has actually to be heard to be fully appreciated.

Another innovation is that during the music, we got shown various videos of the women engaged in singing, their wedding preparing, the famous "crying wedding" in which young ladies are torn from their close bond with their mother and their unwillingness to rupture the special emotional bonds which can exist only amongst traditional Chinese women between grandmothers, mothers, daughters, grand-daughters and between sisters from a fast disappearing age and tradition as they journey through the meandering paths of life, symbolized by the river, which Tan thought of as a river of tears.

In this piece, we got to hear the sound of paper blowing, water dripping, stone hitting each other and the sound of all kinds of conventional and non-conventional percussive "instruments" in extremely original ways which seem to blend in perfectly with the musical phrases, motifs, melodies etc , the tongue singing of Miu clan women and of course the sliding of the fingers on the string instruments typical of the erwu style of playing to produce continuously changing tone and vibrato.  I enjoyed it enormously. I hope to hear him again soon.