Classical & Opera: East meets West

With so much new music veering towards the small-scale - if not, in some cases, almost the aphoristic - one has to admire the somewhat alternative approach taken by a composer such as the Tan Dun (right). Born in China in 1957, he studied at the Beijing Conservatory when it opened in 1978 after the Chinese Cultural Revolution, but now makes his home in New York. And, in what definitely amounts to the biggest and longest of the UK premieres at this summer's BBC Proms season, Dun takes it upon himself to explode a few "little" issues such as heaven, earth and mankind, which, in fact, form the subtitle of his massive Symphony 1997.

That said, the work did not come about in usual commissioning circumstances. It commemorates no less an event than the reunification of Hong Kong with China, and was premiered in the city on July 1 only last year among ceremonies marking that transfer. In what amounts to a postmodern musical montage, Dun tries to evoke both a large-scale background canvas and man's solitary quest to locate and position himself against the same. Though by no means programmatic in nature, the solo cello part, written for Yo-Yo Ma, represents the individual voice of a storyteller rising out of, and ceding back into, the multitude.

Yet aside from his large symphony orchestra, Dun calls on two other sets of guest performers - a children's choir, proclaiming hope in the future; as well a massive set of ancient Chinese bells. In 1978, excavations at the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng uncovered 65 bronze bells that had lain buried since the fifth century BC. This set of bells is collectively known as "bianzhong", and spans an incredible five-octave range. In a sense, Dun's audacious employment of these ancient instruments therefore also renders his symphony a simultaneous concerto for cello, bianzhong. and orchestra.

Like the city of Hong Kong itself, Dun's vast and colourful score attempts to unite the cultures of East and West. An array of yin- and yang-like contrasts are evoked in everything from overall layout to individual timbres. A Taoist structure further imbues the symphony via its division into the almost Dante-esque spheres of heaven, earth and mankind. What results is a truly "global" concoction, by turns celebratory, pensive, spiritual and secular.

In Monday's alluring Prom, Jerzy Maksymiuk conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a no less probing symphonic opus - Vaughan Williams's Symphony No 5, itself composed during turbulent historic circumstances in the darkest years of the Second World War. After the interval, under Dun's own baton, the orchestra has a very different symphonic territory to negotiate, when, along with Yo-Yo Ma, the New London Children's Choir and the forces of the Imperial Bell Ensemble of China, they evoke Heaven, Earth, Mankind in a 70-minute span.

Of course, such all-sweeping symphonic statements have been made before - Beethoven's Ninth and the essays of Gustav Mahler immediately spring to mind. Can Dun's ambition and inspiration match theirs? Whatever the ultimate merits of the score, this promises to be a very unusual musical experience.

Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, SW7 (0171-589 8212) 3 Aug, 7.30pm

News
news
Sport
Danny Cipriani of England breaks clear to score his second try
rugby
Life and Style
New research says leaving your desk can help you to avoid serious illness
health
Arts and Entertainment
tvSPOILER ALERT: Like a mash-up of 28 Days Later, Braveheart, The Killing and Lord of the Rings, this GoT episode was a belter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Cloud ERP Solution Provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    £26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

    Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

    Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

    Day In a Page

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral