"I was actually disappointed when I first started listening to this work--I knew Tan from works like Death and Fire and his great opera, Marco Polo, and I knew that his music was more than just a gimmicky mix of Eastern and Western styles. He had a powerful and sometimes frightening imagination, and his music was genuinely avant-garde. Then in the first section of Symphony 1997, "Heaven," we get a rather "nice" collection of tunes, suitable for the occasion of reunification, but not very compelling if you know earlier Tan. Keep listening, though: the middle section, "Earth," is a self-contained concerto (also called Yi-3) for Cello, Bells, and Orchestra. It's powerful and intense, and is really the musical center of the work--the outer sections are more for ceremony. "Earth," though, adds to Tan's growing list of achievements, making him easily one of the mose important composers of the 90s."
Unforgettable concert BUT...
Philippe COLIN | 08/27/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I had the chance to see the occidental premiere of Tan Dun's 'Symphony 1997: Heaven, Earth, Mankind' at the 1998 London Proms, conducted by the composer himself. This is a concert I will never forget. The large scene of the Royal Albert Hall was filled with an impressive number of instruments and performers: in addition to the occidental phiharmonic orchestra, it featured a choir of Chinese children, a bianzhong (ancient Chinese bells) and an ensemble of traditional Asian drums and percussions. The result was pure magic for the open-minded listener. This is why I may have overrated this album, which does not quite deliver the same enchantment as the 'real' thing. This symphony is innovative and skillfully composed but the listener gets lost into this blend of experimental music, traditional Chinese themes and a main theme so trivially easy to remember it sounds like Vangelis... The symphony was commissioned to celebrate the reunification of Hong Kong with China and the middle part (probably the most interesting and experimental) is actually a further development of one of Tan Dun's previous works. My impression is therefore that the symphony could have done with more coherence. Nevertheless, this is a most exciting and original record, well worth buying. And need I mention that Yo-Yo Ma's skill is as stunning as ever?"
Music worthy of the event it was commissioned for.
Moses Alexander | Alabama, USA | 11/16/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Its not everyday that one land mass unifies itself politically with another (in this case Hong Kong becoming a part of China.) With an event of that scale, one certainly requires some big music...music that's big in everyway...joy...sound...size of ensemble...etc.Also considering Hong Kong was passing from British to Chinese rule there needed to be a certain amount of both eastern and western culture involved. Who could have been more perfect than Tan Dun? The ensemble consists of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Imperial Bells Ensemble of China, Yip's Children's Choir and cello soloist Yo-Yo Ma (you can't get a bigger cellist now can you?)The piece opens up with the "Song of Peace" a gorgeous tune sung by children's choir and supported by orchestra. Musically the piece is all over the place, but that's said in a good way...its grand, beautiful, austere, light-hearted and every other emotion that one could feel. The piece is also a cello concerto of sorts often using Ma's cello lines against orchestra, bells, choir, etc. There are musical allusions to Beethoven's 9th Symphony, and I also feel I hear some Debussy as well, but that's always been Tan's formula for success, everything and the kitchen sink, but in a well ordered sort of way.Tan Dun's music can take some getting used to, and this probably isn't the best place to delve into it (my vote for that is "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" soundtrack or his "Songs from Peony Pavillion.") (You can hear a bit of the main theme of "Crouching Tiger" in part 11 of the Symphony entitled "MANKIND.")A really interesting hodge-podge of stuff for the truly adventurous...and always, Yo-Yo Ma is excellent."
Christopher Culver | 09/19/1999
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Structurally, Symphony 1997 exposes Dun's integration of Eastern and Western musical elements throughout the work. While composing intermediate and transitional material to collage, or link, historic musical "samples" in a large three-part form for the symphony, Dun incorporates referential and symbolic music to recall the past and the present interchangeably. Furthermore, Dun realizes this method via extracting examples of both Western and Chinese melodies, i.e. Great Wall sounding behind a foreground of Beethoven's Ode to Joy from the Chorale Movement of the Symphony No. 9, as if Dun's main message is one of cultural pluralism, perhaps even a necessary expression of gratitude between the West and Hong Kong for their shared sociopolitical prosperity. However, as per Dun's borrowing of Puccini, Beethoven, and Mahler, one could criticize his confusion in using Germanic and Italian themes over British material for a primarily British-Asian political event. Yet, on the contrary, Dun wishes for immediate recognition from the international audience, and the themes he chooses just happen to be more popular in nature."
An intriguing thorny cello concerto enveloped by gimmicky cr
Christopher Culver | 12/06/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Tan Dun's SYMPHONY 1997: Heaven -- Earth -- Mankind was written for the ceremonies on the reunification of Hong Kong with China. As it was meant for a great public spectacle, the work is of grand proportions. Besides orchestra (Hong Kong Philharmonic), there's children's choir, cello solo (Yo-Yo Ma), and the use of 2500 year-old bronze bells discovered in an excavation in 1978. Does it work? To an extant, but it is not Tan Dun's best work.
The symphony is split into three parts, which not only different from each other, but each consist of heterogenous material as well. It opens with a prelude, "Song of Peace" where the bells and childrens choir are presented, though at restrained dynamics. The first movement, "Heaven", alternates between Chinese dance rhythms and vocal techniques and the Western symphonic tradition. It includes an outright quotation of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. The last movement, "Mankind" is quite similar with its line on cello and bass instruments and the accompaniment of the children's choir. It ends with a repeat of the "Song of Peace" but with much bolder dynamics and
But it is the second movement of the symphony which forms the core of the work and which is the least gimmicky. "Earth (Yi3)" is an expanion of the composer's earlier piece Yi1. While that was a concerto for cello, this second movement adds bells. In four sections, its writing is meditative and at times angular, and the cello writing is remarkably virtuoso. The bells add little to the piece, at least in this recording, but there's more than enough here to fascinate the listener, and indeed one notices neat little details at every hearing.
If you don't know Tan Dun's work but want to check it out, avoiding world-music crossover gimmickry can be difficult, since so much of his music is written for popular consumption. If you are looking for uncompromising art music, the WATER PASSION (on Sony) and the highly entertaining and thought-provoking THE MAP (a DVD on Deutsche Grammophon) are worth seeking out. Come to the SYMPHONY 1997 to hear his cello concerto after you've already begun building a collection."