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An innovative concert by maestro Tan Dun

My wife and I were amazed by the mean-spirited and obtuse review Marc Rochester (Smartphones, Swordplay In Concert, Life, April 22) gave the extraordinary wonderful Tan Dun concert at the Esplanade.

Tan Dun, as most music lovers know, is a pioneer in bringing Eastern and Western music together in harmony or counterpoint, most recently his Nu Shu: The Secret Songs Of Women performed here two years ago.

Rather than a string of insults, Rochester might have tried to place Tan Dun's work in the context of his career trajectory of innovations, including the use of organic materials (water in this case) stemming from ritual traditions.

Maestro Tan in fact did so himself in charming verbal engagements with the audience, both from the stage and in the talk back afterwards.

The concerto, Farewell My Concubine, was exquisitely performed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Ralph van Raat and Xiao Di, and their respective explanations in the talk about the emotional as well as cultural translations they had to learn to express added to the depth of the experience.

The whole evening was a dialogue of folk versus symphonic music in Bartok's Hungary and Tan Dun's China, Chinese operatic flow versus Western formalism, as well as one of experiments with new elements of daily life brought into a symphony hall, by engaging children (Secret Of Wind And Birds was, after all, written for a children's orchestra) and their omnipresent cellphones.

Waved in the air, the cellphones did indeed seem like a flock of birds and the gesture was a lovely inversion of the usual "turn off your phones" in favour of channelling the phones into a harmonious usage with the music.

Michael M.J. Fischer

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2017, with the headline 'An innovative concert by maestro Tan Dun'. Print Edition | Subscribe