Louth Contemporary Music Society in association with Louth County Arts Office and Dundalk Arts office present The Kronos Quartet with special guest Wu Man in the Irish premieres of Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera & Terry Riley’s Cusp of Magic in An Tain Theatre Dundalk on 13 July 2009. Both works were specially written for the Kronos Quartet and are available on cd recordings from Nonesuch records.
Kronos has become one of the most celebrated and influential ensembles of our time, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 45 recordings of extraordinary breadth and commissioning more than 600 new works and arrangements for string quartet. Kronos’ work has also garnered numerous awards, including a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance (2004) and “Musicians of the Year” (2003) from Musical America.
Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera
Ghost Opera is an acclaimed work for string quartet and pipa (Chinese lute) from Tan Dun (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera is written for string quartet and pipa (Chinese lute) and features Grammy winning Kronos Quartet with acclaimed Chinese instrumentalist Wu Man. Stephen Pettit of the London Times said Tan Dun is master of effect. Ghost Opera is a five movement theatrical work that mirrors an ancient Chinese funeral custom in which the performer engages in a dialogue between his past and future. Ghost Opera is beguiling and moving. It is a colorful as well as a touching meditation, garnished by sounds of clashing stones and cymbals, the Chinese one-stringed lute and pipa, and small bells. . .wonderfully atmospheric.”
Tan Dun’s (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) Ghost Opera is a five movement work for string quartet and pipa, with water, metal, stone and paper. Ghost Opera is written for string quartet and pipa with paper, shadow, and water gong basins placed around the performing space. The performers’ movements reflect the back-and-forth between spiritual realms that is characteristic of the ‘ghostopera’ tradition. In composing Ghost Opera, Tan was inspired by childhood memories of the shamanistic “ghost operas” of the Chinese peasant culture. In this tradition, which is over 4,000 years old, humans and spirits of the future, the past, and nature communicate with each other. The work employs elements from the European classical concert tradition, Chinese shadow puppet theatre, visual art installations, folk music theatre and ritual.
Terry Riley’s Cusp of Magic
Terry Riley’s six-movement piece, The Cusp of Magic was described by the Los Angeles Times “with its lullabies and entrancing Chinese songs and sweet disposition, brims with joy.” The Cusp of Magic was commissioned by Kronos on the occasion of their longtime friend and collaborator Riley’s 70th birthday, the piece features the Quartet joined by Wu Man on pipa (a Chinese plucked string instrument, similar to a lute) and vocals, with all musicians also playing a variety of percussion instruments, toys, and noisemakers. Kronos Artistic Director and Violinist David Harrington says, “No composer has been as much a part of Kronos as Terry Riley. We first met at Mills College in 1978, and he has written 23 works for us so far. We knew Terry was turning 70 in 2005, and it seemed like a perfect time to commission another new piece from him. I was sure he would spend the time and take the care needed to bring his knowledge of the pipa up to the point where he could write an amazing work, and over a period of more than a year, he learned about the instrument from Wu Man. “One day I was talking with him and he said he wanted this piece to be ‘magical.’ My granddaughter Emily was an infant at the time. We had little toys and noisemakers around the house, which we would play as I carried her around. Of all the experiences I’ve had, that is the most magical. ‘Why don’t you just come over, and we’ll play some of Emily’s toys?’ I said. So he brought over his computer and recording equipment, and we played all of her toys while she was taking a nap.”
Riley adds, “In this work, the different timbre and resonance of the Chinese pipa and the Western string quartet highlight the crossover regions of cultural reference, so that the Western musical themes might be projected with an Eastern accent and vice-versa. My plan was to make these regions seamless so that the listener is carried between worlds without an awareness of how he/she ends up there.”
The Kronos Quartet with special guest Wu Man are presented by Louth Contemporary Music Society in association with Louth County Arts Office and Dundalk Arts office. The performance of Ghost Opera and the Cusp of Magic is funded by The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon and financially supported by the Dundalk Arts Office, the Louth Arts Office and Fáilte Ireland.
David Harrington of Kronos was interviewed on the BBC’s Sounds Classical on 10 May 2009 talking about Kronos new cd Floodplain and the Dundalk performance.