The Columbus Dispatch

   Music Review    


Sunday, May 5, 2002

By Barbara Zuck
Dispatch Senior Critic

Composer Tan Dun brought his music to the Ohio Theatre last night for what turned out to be an exploration of many exotic horizons. Something of a musical Thomas Edison, Dun and his many invented instruments became the centerpiece of the evening, offering a continual aural array of new experiences.

Those expecting the concert to focus on Tan's score to the 2000 movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which won him an Oscar, may have been a little disappointed -- at least initially. The first half of the concert was made up of a performance of another of the composer's works, the Water Percussion Concerto.

This fascinating piece set the proper tone -- one of experimentation -- for the entire evening, including the second half, the Crouching Tiger Concerto. Rather than use the concerto to accompany segments of the well-known movie, filmmaker Ang Lee and colleague James Schamus created a new video based on aspects of the film. More a montage or set of impressions on themes in the movie, the video became the secondary element, supporting the music, rather than vice versa.

Featured in this piece were several new or unfamiliar instruments, including one Tan made from recycled garbage that sounded something like a clarinet. But surely the musical star of the Crouching Tiger Concerto was Karen Han, a virtuoso on the er-hu, a Chinese stringed instrument that is played like the cello but has a more eerie and elastic sound. Han and her humble-looking instrument took over the role originally created by famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma. With its highly evocative and expressive qualities, the er-hu quickly made you forget all about Yo-Yo. As Tan noted, the er-hu sounds very much like the human voice.

Thus its use added the dimension of personality and character to the proceedings that were taken out by Lee's new, non-narrative video.

The ProMusica Chamber Orchestra served as the body of Western instrumentalists in both concertos and played well for the composer, who also conducted. Given its long exposure to new music, ProMusica was the right choice for this event.

The Water Percussion Concerto dripped with innovation, especially on those in the front rows of the theater, who took on the wet look. Though several percussionists were at work, most of the splashing came from soloist David Cossin, whose cadenzas included slapping water in glass containers and tapping upturned floating wooden bowls.

Thanks to composers such as Dun, Philip Glass and John Corigliano, movie music is becoming a haven for new ideas, and that can only be good for classical music. Movies get more people into the theater than anything that even hints at "contemporary music,'' but last night's event converted those words into something positive.

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