Chinese musician Tan Dun looks to music to send a message of friendship to the US

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/5/20 18:28:40

Chinese composer Tan Dun (left) and Chinese singer Lei Jia attend a press conference in Beijing on Thursday. Photo: Liu Zhongyin/GT

The US' Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra performed two works by renowned Chinese composer Tan Dun at Beijing's National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) on Friday and Saturday night.

The Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra has a long history with China. In 1973, it became the first US symphony orchestra to play in the Chinese mainland since the founding of the People's Republic of China. The performance was seen as a major ice-breaker for China-US relations. Since then it has frequently returned to China for concert tours, especially after establishing closer cooperative ties with the NCPA in 2012. 

On Friday, the orchestra performed Tan's new piece Fanfare Overture, which was composed in honor of US diplomat Nicholas Platt. A former US ambassador to Pakistan, the Philippines and Zambia and a high-level diplomat in China, Platt attended the concert with Tan that night. The next night saw the orchestra and Chinese singer Lei Jia perform Tan's vocal concerto Mogao Cave Paintings in Dunhuang: Story of the Deer of Nine Colors.

The orchestra also performed Beethoven's classic Pastoral Symphony, which they also performed during their 1973 tour of China, at the Friday concert, which was streamed live on Chinese media platforms as well as Facebook.

At a press conference in Beijing on Thursday, Tan and Lei both expressed wishes that the two countries, who celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties this year and are currently carrying on a trade war, could become closer through music cooperation.  

"When we rehearsed together, I could feel the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra's immense passion for the music as well as their favor towards China," said Lei. 

Tan noted that culture can inspire mutual understanding among people from different backgrounds. He said he believes that the orchestra has developed a special affection for Chinese culture due to their constant interaction with Chinese musicians and their frequent tours to China.

A famous tale in China, The Deer of Nine Colors is a story that many Chinese children hear from their grandparents. The story is also depicted in a mural in the Mogao Caves, a series of caves in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, that are one of the world's largest treasure houses of Buddhist art. 

In the story, the Deer of Nine Colors rescues a drowning person despite knowing that this individual will betray it. 

"The story teaches people how to behave and be a decent, noble and kind person," said Tan. 

According to the two musicians, the orchestra was deeply touched by Tan's vocal concerto. Tan noted that Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the orchestra's music director, strongly suggested that the new piece should be performed in the US as well. 

"I hope people can perceive the Chinese characteristics of candidness, loyalty and kindness through the story," said Tan. 

According to Tan, when he was composing the vocal concerto, he wanted to create a dialogue between the singer and the orchestra. As such, he wrote the piece so that the orchestra doesn't just play instruments but also occasionally utters words in Chinese to interact with the singer.

The combination of instruments and vocal resembles performances in Chinese Opera. 

"I think introducing Chinese stories to the world should not be limited to aesthetics and the meaning of stories, but also include the form that art takes as well," said Tan.

According to a report from the Xinhua News Agency, in addition to performing concerts during its tour of China this month, the orchestra also plans to hold residency activities, such as master classes and coaching sessions, to deepen cultural communication between China and the US. 

Newspaper headline: A story of kindness


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