BWW Reviews: Tan Dun Martial Arts Trilogy at SF Symphony

BWW Reviews: Tan Dun Martial Arts Trilogy at SF Symphony

San Francisco Symphony continues to provide innovative, new programming for its film series. Saturday night saw a particularly different kind of film score as orchestra members used their hands, feet and voice next to their usual instruments.

Tan Dun's martial arts scores require extra coordination and concentration. His complicated chords and rhythms with their Eastern influence make for an incredible experience, and combined with gorgeous cinematography, their fascination increases. One might expect more unique instruments for an evening of Eastern music - the only Eastern instruments present at the Davies Symphony Hall were some drums - but the second half of Dun's music, its Western influence, became especially clear in his score for "The Banquet," the third of three martial arts films featured at Saturday'sconcert. According to program notes, Dun has said that he seeks to "cross boundaries and disciplines and to bring different genres together." He crosses instruments, as well, starting with a violin soloist for "Hero," moving to the cello for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and finishing with the piano in the more modern-sounding "The Banquet." All are exquisite to hear and view.

Soloists Ryu Goto (violin), Peter Wyrick (cello) and a last minute replacement for Robin Sutherland (piano) showcased mesmerizing passion against the backdrop of clips from the three films. Dun's notes state that martial arts came from Chinese opera in the nineteenth century. The influence shows in the balletic movements of martial arts against stark colors. Green cloths in Hero. Black night in Crouching Tiger. White masks in The Banquet. Dun's scores dance between clashing tones and smooth melodies. The composer masterfully reaches deep emotions with the gentle, delicate violin and the banging of piano keys.

San Francisco Symphony and other orchestral groups use multimedia and present film series, as well as concerts of Broadway musicals, in efforts to combine art forms. Although the film clips were out of focus, Saturday evening's Tan Dun concert made an outstanding and successful example. Up next, the Symphony will present film concerts of the new Star Trek and Back to the Future as a part of its summer series.

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