Multi-media performance
enthralls symphony fans

Complemented by video imagery,
eclectic sound creation scores big

In this day and age, contemporary classical composers rarely become household names. But when Tan Dun won the Grammy award for his score for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," suddenly even people who had never set foot inside a symphony hall knew his name and could recognize his music.

Tan Dun's experimentation provides a much-needed bridge between cultures, generations and classic and modern musical traditions.

Amazing, the power of film.

At Friday night's concert by the Honolulu Symphony, the audience welcomed precisely the kinds of sounds usually rejected as "too abstract" or "too difficult" when heard without visual aids: the slapping of strings, buzzing of mouthpieces, edgy harmonics, unusual instruments, sound effects, and so on.

Tan Dun's emphasis on multi-media could well be the wave of the future. It provides a much-needed bridge -- not only between "cultures, traditions, and generations" and between "eastern and western musical traditions," as the program notes claimed, but also between classical music of the past and a more contemporary, more experimental sound world.

Most important, it provides a bridge in understanding, "explaining" that more experimental sound world in terms of today's more familiar video style: rapid-paced, with collage-like disjunctions and superimpositions.

Multi-media performances add a new member to the orchestra: a video imagery artist, expertly performed on Friday by Mike Newman. Throughout, Newman manipulated recorded clips and live shots from strategically placed cameras (one on the underside of a clear bowl of water) in counterpoint to the music.

Tan Dun's "Crouching Tiger" Concerto recaptured moments from the film in six movements featuring the Chinese bowed fiddle, the erhu, in a stunning performance by Ma Xiang-hua. Her playing of the erhu, a highly sensitive instrument with an exceptionally wide range of expression, revealed exhilarating virtuosity and daring intimacy.

"Crouching Tiger" Concerto also highlighted the percussion section, augmented to five performers, and multiple flutes, all enchantingly played by David Buck.

Tan Dun also presented his Concerto for Water Percussion, a piece that can only be described as "cool": It was compelling entertainment for all ages.

It featured percussionist David Cossin, who tours with Tan Dun, ably accompanied by Riely Francis and Matthew McClung, both of the Honolulu Symphony. Water splashing every which way, Cossin elicited more sounds than you could imagine from a few bowls of water and a variety of "water instruments" such as water gongs, wooden bowls, and the spooky waterphone (invented, coincidentally, by Richard Waters from the Big Island).

Water music is not new, of course, any more than orchestral music or sound effects, but the way Tan Dun combines them is. The result is what new music should be: skillfully composed, but also exciting, entertaining, and with appeal broad enough to ensure lasting impact.


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