Tan Dun Conducts World Premiere of His “Terracotta” Symphony at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (March 31 & April 1)
This spring, Tan Dun leads the Juilliard Orchestra in the world premiere performances of his Symphony of Colors: Terracotta (2017) at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (March 31 & April 1). Commissioned to celebrate the opening of the Museum’s landmark exhibition Age of Empires: Chinese Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C.—A.D. 220), the new multimedia symphony showcases Tan Dun’s original film footage of the legendary terracotta warriors, as featured in the exhibit, and draws on music from The First Emperor, his Metropolitan Opera-commissioned Qin-period epic. To complete their program, Tan Dun and the orchestra join Ken Hamao on violin, James Jeonghwan Kim on cello, and Robert Fleitz on piano for the world premiere of Triple Concerto: Hero. Newly scored for the occasion from his Hero Concerto for violin, the new triple concerto was inspired by Tan Dun’s award-winning score to Hero, a martial-arts film depicting the Qin dynasty’s origins, and – like the “Terracotta” Symphony – it recalls China’s earliest imperial past.
Opening at The Met on April 3, Age of Empires is a major international loan exhibition comprising more than 160 ancient Chinese works of art, most of which have never before been seen in the West. Among its rarities are life-size warriors from the spectacular terracotta army that was buried with China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang (260-210 BCE), to protect him in the afterlife. It was Qin Shi Huang whose military conquests unified China, and who ordered construction of the Great Wall. He is the subject of The First Emperor (2006), with which Tan Dun became the first composer in more than 60 years to conduct his own opera at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. A grand-scale epic scored for both Western and traditional Chinese instruments, and which juxtaposes the techniques of Western opera with those of ancient Chinese folk melody, the work was a cultural phenomenon that broke new operatic ground.
The First Emperor comes from West to East – from the West Side’s Metropolitan Opera to the East Side’s Metropolitan Museum – in Symphony of Colors: Terracotta, which draws on music from the opera. The new symphony also boasts stunning visuals, for which Tan Dun traveled to Xi’an, the oldest of China’s Four Great Ancient Capitals, to film the warriors of Qin Shi Huang’s terracotta army in the mausoleum where, for more than 2,000 years, they have made their home. The “Terracotta” Symphony is, then, the most recent of Tan Dun’s works to have the ancient and modern collide through his use of multiple media. Previous examples include Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds (2015), a Carnegie Hall commission scored for orchestra with smartphones to create “a poetical forest of digital birds”; Orchestral Theatre tetralogy (1990–99), which embraces video and puppetry in a bid to reconcile primitive ritual with the modern concert experience; and Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women (2013), which – representing years of ethnomusicological research – incorporates rare filmed song footage in a dying dialect from Tan Dun’s home province of Hunan.
In depicting the birth of the first Chinese empire, Zhang Yimou’s historical drama Hero (2002) – the biggest box-office hit in Chinese history – represents something of a prequel to The First Emperor. It won no fewer than 37 international awards, two of which recognized Tan Dun’s original score. This featured a prominent solo role for violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman, and the composer later reframed it as his multimedia Hero Concerto (2010) for violin and orchestra. The new arrangement for three soloists on violin, cello, and piano has never previously been performed.
The new commission and upcoming concerts mark Tan Dun’s third collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2015, he led two sold-out performances of his 90-minute oratorio Water Passion After St. Matthew (2000) at the Museum’s Temple of Dendur in The Sackler Wing, prompting Opera News to observe: “Tan Dun’s conducting was captivating to watch and yielded magnificent musical results. … It was wonderful to hear this great work so convincingly performed in such an appropriate setting.” Similarly, in 2012, when an abbreviated version of Tan Dun’s kunqu opera, Peony Pavilion (1998), was performed in the Museum’s Ming-style Astor Chinese Garden Court, the Wall Street Journal declared the venue “ideal for this intimate tale and its delicate instrumentation.”
Tan Dun has also already demonstrated his rapport with the Juilliard Orchestra, from which he “drew a performance of exceptional assurance” (New York Times) in the world premiere of his Violin Concerto. This took place during Carnegie Hall’s 2009 “Ancient Paths, Modern Voices” festival, where he was the only composer honored with a dedicated concert.
Tan Dun Conducts Tan Dun at Metropolitan Museum
March 31 and April 1
New York, NY
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium)
Tan Dun: Symphony of Colors: Terracotta (world premiere of new MetLiveArts commission)
Tan Dun: Triple Concerto: Hero for violin, violoncello, piano, and orchestra (world premiere, with Ken Hamao, violin; James Jeonghwan Kim, cello; and Robert Fleitz, piano)
Tan Dun, conductor
Tickets start at $65
The exhibition Age of Empires: Chinese Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C.–A.D. 220) will be on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from April 3–July 16.
This commission is made possible by The Howard & Sarah D. Solomon Foundation.
The critically acclaimed performance series at The Metropolitan Museum of Art commissions and presents contemporary performance through the lens of the Museum’s exhibitions and gallery spaces. MetLiveArts invites artists, performers, curators, and thought-leaders to create groundbreaking new work, including live and digital performances, as well as site-specific durational performances that have been named some of the most “memorable” and “best of” performances in New York City by the New York Times, New Yorker, and Broadway World.
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© 21C Media Group, March 2017