Tan Dun’s The Map, with Yo Yo Ma and the BSO at Tanglewood
August 7, 2004 performance; by Dave Read
Among the many memorable images from this Tanglewood program was this tableau: a Paris-born Chinese cellist and a Siberian violinist trading jazzy licks with the video-taped image of a Chinese leaf blower. Coming during the second movement of Tan Dun’s nine-part composition The Map, Concerto for Cello, Video, and Orchestra, the cellist was Yo Yo Ma, the violinist was B.S.O. Associate Concertmaster Tamara Smirnova, and it drew a round of amused applause from the audience of 9,021.
Somehow this was a night of roots music, perhaps the last thing you’d expect on a Saturday evening in the midst of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s annual sojourn in the Berkshires. And it demonstrated that music is blissfully ignorant of geography, having a way of melding ethnic sounds to speak a language known by each of us, regardless us where, or to whom, we were born.
stone drum, I Ching, shamanism
Maybe the oddest thing is that, in the most literal sense, this evening of brilliant playing by the Boston Symphony was rooted in rock music! That’s right folks, it all came about because of an encounter Maestro Dun had during a visit to his native Hunan province in 1981, while a student at Bejing’s Central Conservatory, with an old man who practiced ba gua stone drumming.
Tan recalled of the old man, who combined principles of the I Ching with shamanistic vocalizations, “The man talked to the wind. He talked both to this life and the past one. I had nothing to offer him, or even to make a record of him, but I promised that one day I would return.”
By the time of his return in 1999, no longer a student but a graduate of Columbia University (Doctor of Musical Arts), with a commission for Yo Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the ba gua drummer, and his tradition, had died. In order to reconstruct his “personal memory of someone who could do something that no one else could do,” Dun made two trips to capture the musical life of the Tuija, Miao, and Dong people, 3 of China’s 55 ethnic minority groups.
Tan describes The Map as being “about minority cultures in China, looking at the past as well as the future” – and as a reconstruction of his own “personal memory of someone who could do something that no one else could.” His aim was to invent an entirely new form, keeping the source material in its pure state on the video screen while simultaneously exploring its timbres in orchestral terms. (Source: program notes by Ken Smith.)
The evening opened with Yo Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble presenting Music from The Silk Road Project.