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To the future

Chen Jie
Updated: Jan 13,2016 8:30 AM     China Daily

Singer-songwriter Song Dongye (left) says it’s a rare opportunity for a pop musician to perform with an orchestra and maestro Tan Dun (right).[Photo/provided to China Daily]

Famous composer Tan Dun begins the new year with a cocktail of classical and rock music.

Composer Tan Dun gave his first concert of the year by performing with two Chinese rock bands in Beijing to show not just how open he was to different kinds of music but also to present his vision of the future of classical music in China.

On Jan 9, Tan conducted the National Symphony of China to play along with the bands Hanggai and Reflector, and singer-songwriter Song Dongye at the Great Hall of the People. The show was part of a project by Pilot Music, a Chinese rock music label.

“Though many Western musicians say the future of classical music is in China, we insiders know that we are losing young audiences. Young people like diversity. They listen to pop, rock, jazz, electronic and all kinds of interesting new music,” Tan told China Daily during rehearsals for the concert.

Tan Dun continues his music experiment by combining classical music with rock ‘n’ roll in a concert in Beijing. [Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]

As a Chinese musician, he feels a pressure to develop a “Chinese way” for classical music, he says, adding that while the music started in Italy and then moved to France, Germany, Britain, Russia and the United States, each country has its own characteristics.

“So, when somebody approached me to suggest a concert combining classical and rock ‘n’ roll, I said ‘yes’. Maybe it’s a new way to make music in the 21st century.”

Founded in 1997, Reflector is especially popular with Chinese in their 30s, for the rock band’s light, fresh and melodic songs. Hanggai is known for its original songs that combine Mongolian folk tunes with rock ‘n’ roll. The band-considered a “Chinese representative” in world music-has toured many European festivals since it was founded in 2004.

Song, a 29-year-old Beijing native, rose to online fame a few years ago for his songs Miss Dong and Bridge Anhe. His simple lyrics and clean guitar-playing skills won him millions of young fans.

“Hanggai is from the vast Mongolian grasslands. I love their music because they have the power of Earth and nature. Their music also represents a world trend in making music,” Tan says.

Song says: “It’s a rare opportunity for singers like me to perform with the national symphony and maestro Tan Dun. A song played on just one guitar is very different from that using an orchestra. I enjoyed making music with them.”

Tan and four young musicians he handpicked worked on formatting the rock songs to make them suitable for the orchestra.

“I don’t like the word ‘crossover’ or ‘fusion’. It’s not that easy to re-create a pop song for an orchestra,” Tan says.

They tried to capture the character of individual songs and let the orchestra add value, he says. In many songs, the attempt was to highlight the rhythm.

“I think rhythm is the key to future music. Chinese music has very good melody, so sometimes we forget we are good at rhythm, too. Peking Opera is a great example of using rhythm,” Tan says.

The orchestra also played Tan’s three works-Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds, The Triple Resurrection and Long Li Ge Long: A Symphonic Poem Audience Chant.

The works are all Tan’s experiments with new sounds.

In Passacaglia, for instance, all the orchestra members held up their cellphones and played the recordings of birds chirping to six traditional Chinese instruments, including sheng (mouth-blown reed instrument made of vertical pipes), pipa (four-stringed plucked instrument), suona (double-reeded horn), erhu (two-stringed bowed instrument), dizi (Chinese flute) and guzheng (Chinese plucked zither).

The Triple Resurrection was created to pay homage to Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. It is the fourth part of Tan’s Martial Arts Cycle, a series of concertos based on his award-winning scores for movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (cello soloist), The Banquet (piano) and Hero (violin).

The concert on Jan 9 ended with Long Li Ge Long: A Symphonic Poem Audience Chant.

Members of both rock bands and the singer Song sang amid audiences, in an improvisation-like scenario.