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Tan Dun's 'The Map' Crosses Boundaries

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Tan Dun gave the Kennedy Center's Festival of China a triple helping of his talents Monday. The Chinese American composer, conductor and video producer brought his odyssey "The Map: Concerto for Cello, Video and Orchestra" to life with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and cellist Wendy Sutton. Dun, most famous for his film score for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," effectively integrated technically sophisticated video with the music onstage.

The field video recordings used in "The Map" captured passionate antiphonal singing, intriguing tongue singing, emphatic percussive dance and other images of ethnic musical life in Hunan province. The interaction of audio-video and live music connected generations and cultures across years and over continents.

Both the orchestra and Sutton were completely at home with the broad range of dynamics and techniques that Dun required. "Blowing Leaf," a particularly stirring section, began with muted bells and clarinet. Solo cello mirrored the display of a man blowing across a leaf, creating a sharp chirping sound as a chorus of brass coo-cooed into their mouthpieces alone.

Without visual images, Bright Sheng painted a vivid travelogue in his "Postcards," four miniatures using Chinese melodies woven in a tonal setting. Solidly led by Chen Xieyang, the players strove to emulate traditional Chinese timbres with their Western orchestral instruments.

Bamboo flutist extraordinaire Tang Junqiao displayed her virtuosity in a nearly unlimited breadth of timbres in Concerto for Bamboo Flutes and Orchestra by Guo Wenjing. In Junqiao's hands, the flute was capable of an enormous range of sounds: glissandos, soft trills, nasal buzz, birds and even wind. Her lightning technique in the allegro section made one think of a recording at fast-forward speed.

-- Gail Wein

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