BroadwayWorld: TŌN with Tan Dun at Jazz At Lincoln Center

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“A student gave an introduction to each of the works on the program. All four were personable and well-spoken, particularly Weiqiao Wu. Mr. Wu introduced the highlight of the concert, world-renowned composer and conductor  Tan Dun’s Violin Concerto: Rhapsody and Fantasia 2009What might have been a somewhat knotty, impenetrable contemporary piece was made more accessible through Mr.Wu’s explanation.

The brilliant soloist Ms. Eldbjørg Hemsing brought the music to life, articulating each note with precision and richly dynamic expression. No mere walk in the park for the violinist, this highly rhythmic, complex work allowed each section of the orchestra to shine. The lovely, warm string sound was especially appealing. There was a large percussion battery that included Chinese gongs which bent the music into inimitable Eastern sounds. Mr. Dun’s direction of the orchestra was clearly defined and dynamic. The orchestral response was instantaneous, which meant that all eyes were not only on the music, but on Mr. Dun as well. For the listener, this piece was imaginative, engaging, and downright fun to experience.

The Rhapsody for Clarinet by Claude Debussy featured TŌN clarinet soloist Viktor Tóth. Mr. Tóth’s sensitive playing was at times somewhat melancholy and nostalgic. His ability to sustain long phrases on seemingly one breath without a lapse of pitch or support was astonishingly beautiful. At all times the orchestra provided a shimmering yet delicate background for the soloist.

The Miraculous Mandarin Suite by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was the final work of the day. This ballet begins with an authoritative trombone solo and goes on to showcase all sections of the orchestra. There were several standout section soloists, which included the aforementioned trombone and some lovely oboe playing.” – Joanna Barouch

Photo by Patrick Arias

Stravinsky’s Fireworks

Notes by TŌN violist Lucas Goodman

Teacher and Father Figure
Composed in 1908, Igor Stravinsky’s Feu d’Artifice, Op. 4 (Fireworks) is short (4 minutes), yet played a significant role in the young composer’s life. At the time that he wrote it, Stravinsky was studying with the great Russian master Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whom he would come to hold in the highest esteem as both a teacher and father-figure. The elder Rimsky was aware of Stravinsky’s work on this new orchestral piece, and even requested that Stravinsky send him a copy when it was complete. Stravinsky eagerly complied with his teacher’s request, but the Russian Giant would never see or hear Fireworks. News would soon reach Stravinsky that the great Rimsky had died, and the package was returned to a heartbroken Igor.

A New Relationship
Fireworks premiered in Saint Petersburg in 1909, with Sergei Diaghilev in attendance. Diaghilev was so impressed by Fireworks that he soon thereafter began his own artistic partnership with the young Stravinsky, commissioning him to write music for the famous Ballet Russes in Paris, eventually leading to Stravinsky’s most famous ballet compositions, including The Rite of Spring, The Firebird, and Petrushka, among several others.

Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin Suite

Notes by TŌN horn player William Loveless VI

“It will be hellish music. The prelude before the curtain goes up will be very short and sound like pandemonium.” —Bartók to his wife about the music in The Miraculous Mandarin

Following the horrors of World War I, the ability to shock an audience in Europe had become more difficult; what could anybody write that would challenge what has already happened in our world? Perhaps this is what drew Béla Bartók to set The Miraculous Mandarin to music: a chance to shock the audience.

The actions of the pantomime are summarized in the score: “In a shabby room in the slums, three tramps, bent on robbery, force a girl to lure prospective victims from the street. A down-at-heel cavalier and a timid youth, who succumb to her attractions, are found to have thin wallets and are thrown out. The third ‘guest’ is the eerie Mandarin. His impassivity frightens the girl, who tries to thaw him by dancing—but when he feverishly embraces her, she runs from him in terror. After a wild chase he catches her, at which point the three tramps leap from their hiding place, rob him of everything he has, and try to smother him under a pile of cushions. But he gets to his feet, his eyes fixed passionately on the girl. They run him through with a sword; he is shaken, but his desire is stronger than his wounds, and he hurls himself on her. They hang him up, but it is impossible for him to die. Only when they cut him down, and the girl takes him into her arms, do his wounds begin to bleed and he dies.”

Rather than depicting something so grotesque as a beast or monster, the grittiness and depravity come from humans in the modern age, who are capable of the most violent and hellish acts.

The Chaotic City
From the beginning the music is pure pandemonium. Many things happening at once: blaring horns, quick strings, obstinate winds. This texture permeates the entire piece as the chaos of the scene never leaves, or perhaps is just outside the door. The music turns to dance themes—erotic, vivacious; beautiful, but meant to lure you in. Bartók traveled throughout Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, and Bulgaria notating and recording music and sounds he heard in villages. Listen for these European folk impressions, primarily in the clarinet. The frenzy of music continues until the end, a continuous whirlwind for the performers and the audience.

Debussy’s Rhapsody for Clarinet

Notes by TŌN clarinetist Ye Hu

A Competition Solo
Written in 1910, Claude Debussy’s Rhapsody for Clarinet was commissioned as an examination piece, Solo de Concours (competition solo) for the clarinet students at the Paris Conservatoire. The piece is lyrical and rich, requiring the full range of technical and musical possibilities that the clarinetist has to offer.

A Masterpiece for Clarinet
This work is dedicated to Prosper Mimart, the clarinet professor at the Paris Conservatoire from 1904–18, who also gave the premiere performance in January 16, 1911. The Rhapsody was originally written for clarinet and piano, and after Debussy heard the composition performed, he was extremely satisfied with the results. He wrote to his publisher, “to judge by the looks on the faces of my colleagues, the Rhapsodie was a success.” It was soon recognized as a masterpiece for clarinet, and Debussy’s particular delight with the piece inspired him to adapt the work for full orchestra in 1911.

A Free-Form Piece
The Rhapsody for Clarinet is a free-form piece. Debussy creates great challenges for the performer, including understanding Debussy’s unique style, structure of harmony, a number of significant technical obstacles, and change of color, tone, intonation, and nuance. This extremely beautiful and fantasy-like composition is known for its multiple levels of dynamics that go from piano to pianissimo to pianississimo to actual silence. Debussy creates different sound worlds within each section. Through his connection of motives, each motive presents a unique idea which develops different color and atmosphere in each section. As the clarinet and orchestra create a dream-like atmosphere, the modules of sound twist in and out of these different ideas in a free way.

Cadenza: The Sight and Sound of Vallotton and Honegger

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“Botstein has become the city’s preeminent music educator, a music historian to the people; each concert is a veritable course in music appreciation. TŌN’s valuable Sight & Sound series at The Metropolitan Museum of Art enhances the audience’s cultural cachet, providing context for both music and visual art.

The first movement of [Honegger’s Symphony No. 1] grabs the listener by the ear and doesn’t let go. Its rhythmically charged, angular lines recall Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. TŌN’s virtuosic string section played with vibrant electricity, clarity, and definition. The brass section is world class. As the fast-paced music builds in emphasis, the horns contribute stunning section playing. Muted trumpet solos soar, or comment wryly. The celli, basses, and percussion maintain the integrity of the motoric pulse, grooving along with daring march. TŌN excels at crystalline intonation in complex, kaleidoscopic harmonies.

The middle movement, Adagio, is the heart of the piece. TŌN’s woodwinds make cohesive drama in slithery, sinuous dialogue. Again, the horns, with their powerful, round tone and unfailing stamina, play with maturity beyond their years. Botstein, subtly balancing dynamics, draws focused imagery from many planes of texture.

The finale, Presto-Andante tranquillo, begins adventurously, the trumpets achieving athletic feats, the trombones interjecting ironically with admirable taste. Each section of the orchestra gets put through its paces, and TŌN’s musicians collaborate skillfully, acing tight harmonies and textures.” – Brian Taylor

Photo by David DeNee