Tan Dun / Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Tan Dun: Concerto for Orchestra

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Recorded in 2012 in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, this album presents two works written in that year by the phenomenally popular Chinese composer Tan Dun, along with one composed in 1990. Although his music is dense with specific Chinese references, Tan Dun was trained for some time in the U.S., and part of his success has been due to the fact that Americans, with their pastiche-oriented cultural ways, tend to grasp his music quite easily. The new works are exciting, for they show Tan elaborating on the accessible style of the soundtrack that helped make Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon a global hit. The basic elements of his style -- detailed orchestral work, use of musical elements drawn from the natural and ritual life of rural China, programmatic content, and rigorous modernist structural principles -- are all still present, but they are merged and treated in new ways. The Symphonic Poem on Three Notes was composed for the 70th birthday of Plácido Domingo. It weaves the three-note motif la-si-do together with the name "Plácido" chanted by a ritual chorus and industrial sounds depicting the transformation of the Chinese countryside. Nobody else could have put all these things into a coherent unit, but that's the genius of this composer. The Concerto for Orchestra does not seem to be a commentary on Bartók's work of the same name, but is associated with a Tan Dun opera on the subject of Marco Polo. The earlier Orchestral Theatre (1990) is one of Tan's pure experiments in expressing Chinese content in something other than the stylized way required under Mao's regime; it takes shamanic ritual for its subject, and it's very compelling. The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra under Tan Dun's own direction manages the considerable technical challenges of this music. A fine introduction to this important composer's ideas and how they have developed.

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