This album has arrived a little late now that we are several weeks into the
new millennium, nevertheless it is exceedingly welcome for its sheer vibrancy,
brilliant colours and extraordinarily imaginative juxtapositioning of musical
styles and instruments. The ear never has time to be bored.
Tan Dun's joyous 2000 Today composition was commissioned for the
international consortium of TV broadcasters (led by the BBC and Boston's
WGBH) millennium programme that began at the hour of midnight in the Pacific
island of Tonga and tracked zero hour as it progressed westward across the
globe through each of the earth's 24 time zones.
At this point I can do no better than to quote from Mary Lou Humphrey's lucid
booklet notes to explain the work:-
"Although Tan Dun's music is renowned for its spiritual and meditative qualities,
he is increasingly embracing a more global perspective in his work. With
2000 Today he introduces the innovative concept of a "mosaic" symphony.
Immediately noticeable are 2000 Today's two contrasting orchestras:
one consisting of classical Western instruments, a chorus and soprano soloist;
the other using world instruments and "primitive" sounds like the gravelly
vocalisations of Tibetan monks. Contrasts abound, such as between the whirring
aboriginal didgeridoo and the high-tech electronic "whooshes" that periodically
flash by like shooting stars. Percussion is central to the piece; hypnotic
rhythms resound from a plethora of drums including the thundering East Asian
ohdaiko and the pattering Middle Eastern tar. Clacking stones and the sound
of water, alternately cascading and icy, are also important elements in 2000
Today, as they represent to Tan the beginning of the world's journey.
"Serving as the centrepiece of the symphony's mosaic form, and heard in every
movement is an easily recognisable "chant": the gently lush, ascending theme
first heard in the strings at the beginning of the piece. It has the flavour
of an ancient scale, an Indian raga, a gameleon melody - to which counterpointed
musical material is added to capture the poetic spirit of the world's regions.
In the work's finale, Tan blends the chant and all its counterpoints into
a "Unity" Here, with a sense of inevitability, the chant musically unifies
the earth's cultures as one. And, to open the celebration, The Gypsy Kings
and Ziggy Marley come together for Bob Marley's reggae classic 'One Love'
to sing of a world united by love."
[If only every new soundtrack recording came with such eloquent notes]
I would just add a few observations of my own, but first I will list the
movement titles that give a flavour of the composition:
I mean no disparagement at all when I claim that this music has an undeniable
theatrical and epic feel; its perspectives are big in every direction with
the sound stage strategically exploited continuously. There are many surprises
and few, if any, clichés. One might expect that Tan's portrait of
Antarctica would be icy and still. Chilly yes, this is quite palpable but
his hostile environment is suggested by odd instrumental noises, voices and
galvanising rhythms. 'Dreams' clearly represents America with those long-held,
imposing Copland-like, quasi-fanfare brass chords redolent of heroes and
vast Western vistas, juxtapositioned with material that suggests the chantings
of American Indians. 'Celebration' is a real oddity contrasting a cinema
organ with Caribbean steel drums and muted brass sounding like motor horns
or squawking birds. 'Crossings' has intricate tendrils of sinuous, sensuous
flute/clarinet and violin material with music for harmonium and steel drums.
To Mary Lou's remarks about the final '2000 Passions', I would add that there
is also music recalling Orff's Carmina Burana suggesting, perhaps,
that not only peoples and places are united but also former experiences from
the last and previous millennia.
An astonishing achievement. Warmly recommended