Posted by: rbbadger | January 27, 2009

Fusion music

One of the things that has become very big in Korea is so-called “fusion food”, namely food which blends Korean cooking with that of other cuisines.  And there have been many, many attempts with fusion music, namely using traditional Korean instruments to play western classical music or Beatles’ songs.  I do have a CD of the Seoul Metropolitan Traditional Music Orchestra performing Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons completely on traditional instruments.  It does sound a little weird, but then if Wendy Carlos could convincingly and stunningly play Bach on the synthesiser, I see no reason why you couldn’t play Vivaldi on Korean instruments.

Google commissioned a symphony from the talented Chinese composer Tan Dun (譚盾).  Maestro Tan has gotten to be very prominent in the classical music world.  The Met, an opera company not known for adventurous programming, commissioned an opera from him.  Hong Kong commissioned a symphony from him in honour of their return to China.  He also composed the film score for the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  He’s accomplished quite a lot for a man who suffered through the worst of Mao’s cultural revolution and began the formal study of music very late in his career.  Eventually, he came to America where he studied with Chou Wen-chung, a Chinese composer who like Tan Dun, came to America and stayed.  Tan Dun continues to live in America, but he has retained his Chinese citizenship.

Tan likes to draw from a lot of different sources in his work.  His Symphony 1997 “Heaven Earth Mankind” quotes Chinese folk songs, Beethoven’s Ninth, uses a number of avant-garde techniques, and generally has something for everybody.  So too with this piece.

One thing which I have become a very big fan of are the traditional Korean orchestras.  Like their Chinese counterparts, these are quite new creations.  While there is a long tradition of large sized ensembles in Korean and Chinese music, the development of a sort of symphonic tradition for traditional instruments is a new thing.  Seoul is home to at least four fine orchestras of Korean instruments.  Like their Chinese counterparts, the instruments have been somewhat modified.  While Korea does have a cello-like instrument capable of supporting the bass, traditional Chinese music doesn’t really have that.  So some of the instruments that you are going to see have been somewhat modified.

Two orchestras I really want to see, but never have, considering that I’ve never been in their respective countries when they are performing are the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra and the Singapore Chinese Orchestra.  In this short video, you will hear the Hong Kong Chinese orchestra performing an excerpt from the Internet Symphony “Eroica” of Tan Dun.

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