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Tan Dun

Publisher: G. Schirmer

The Map: Concerto for Cello, Video and Orchestra (2002),
Work Notes
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G Schirmer Inc
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
55 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Tan Dun The Map: Concerto for Cello, Video and Orchestra (2002),
In the winter of 1981, while a student at Beijing’s Central Conservatory, I returned to my home province in Hunan to collect folk songs. When I arrived at a Tujia village, I met a famous “stone man” who welcomed me by playing his stone music, a very ancient stone drumming. In eight positions, according to the I Ching and with shamanistic vocalizations, he talked to the wind, clouds, and leaves; he talked to the next life and the past one. At that moment I felt he was a map. Then I asked him, “Someday soon, might I come back to record your performance and study music with you?” For years, I didn’t find the chance to return, not until 20 years later when I started this piece for Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In the winter of 1999, I went back; the Tujia villagers welcomed me with a warm tea ceremony and told me “‘one has left, tea is cold’— the “stone man” has gone with the old music that nobody knew anymore.” I left the village with emptiness.

I really wanted to find a way to search for him, to follow him, to bring him back. Might we find a way to follow all that is vanishing? To keep things from disappearing?

The Map is a multi-media concerto grosso. I wanted to discover the counterpoint between different media, different time-spaces and different cultures. The structures and musical textures are designed to create antiphonal music by building a counterpoint between the cello solo and video orchestra video, solo and ensemble, text and sound, and multi-channel video and live playing of stone. Metaphorically, the orchestra becomes nature, the soloist symbolizes people, and video represents tradition.

The Map can be considered in four sections: Movements one, two, and three constitute the first section and are played in succession. Sonic counterpoint is designed differently in each of these three movements. The following two movements are studies in contrast. Movement five creates a dialogue not only through space (a Feige is always sung antiphonally across mountains and valleys by a woman and a man) but also across time (the same woman in the video will for all time sing antiphonally with the cellist on stage therefore transcending history). Movement six is an interlude in which video images are replaced by text and sound in counterpoint, leading into movement seven, a video quartet with live stone solo.

The last section is made up of Movements eight and nine, where the cello solo, orchestra and video, become “one” and recreate music in its original, monophonic state — simple, like heartbeats. It is a finale that does not end. Actually my greatest wish in composing The Map was to meld technology and tradition. Through tradition, technology can be humanized; through technology tradition can be renewed and passed on. Ancient cultural traditions vanish everyday, everywhere. If artists embrace the past and the future within their hearts, miracles will happen. As my soloist Anssi Karttunen once told me: “My old French cello follows The Map to Xiangxi. It has received great karma from the water there and has made true connections with the roots of the people there. The ancient music of Xiangxi has given my cello new sounds and a fresh life.” Yes! If one composes for a European orchestra but incorporates the unique perspectives of different cultures, as well as one’s own personal roots, it becomes a new orchestra — like Schoenberg’s and Bartók’s did. People always say that human life is finite, but we forget that renewing the cultures and reinventing the traditions can extend human life infinitely.

—Tan Dun

Learn about other music from the Silk Road.

  • Ensemble
    Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
    Tan Dun
    Deutsche Grammophon (Dvd):
What the orchestra plays, along with the extensive obbligato contribution of Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen, is vivid enough. The greatest asset of Tan's score is the colour and imagination of its writing, which deploys a wide range of special effects without allowing them to slide into mere decoration.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,23/03/2009
The British premiere of The Map, a seven-year-old 'concerto' for cello, video projections and orschestra, mapped a path back through the modern world to a lost indigenous music: the music of one stone hitting another, once practised in a village in Tan's home province, Hunan. We reached the stones after six movements of often vivid spot effects - sighing and singing from Anssi Karttunen's cello, jazzy orchestral erruptions, video footage from Hunan of tradition song and oursed lips blowing on leaves...Tan composes with a warm heart, questing mind and a knack for striking sonorities...
Geoff Brfown, The Times,24/03/2008
THE MAP [is] a multi-media project mixing video of traditional music and dance with [Tan Dun’s] own characteristic take on Chinese music....As well as the complete premiere performance, held outdoors in a remote rural village on platforms above a river with lanterns floating by, this DVD includes a documentary on the assembly of the video sequences and the preparations for the concert. The concert itself is a remarkable event, sociologically and musically, but the documentary insight into the various folk traditions is fascinating.
Barry Witherden, BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE,01/01/0001
Tan Dun gave the Kennedy Center's Festival of China a triple helping of his talents Monday. The Chinese American composer, conductor and video producer brought his odyssey THE MAP: CONCERTO FOR CELLO, VIDEO AND ORCHESTRA to life with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and cellist Wendy Sutter. Tan, most famous for his film score for CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, effectively integrated technically sophisticated video with the music onstage. The field video recordings used in THE MAP captured passionate antiphonal singing, intriguing tongue singing, emphatic percussive dance and other images of ethnic musical life in Hunan province. The interaction of audio-video and live music connected generations and cultures across years and over continents.
Gail Wein, Washington Post,01/01/0001
The classical music world has long sought to find a place in our videocentric age. It's been a cinch for opera, but [in the symphonic world], Tan Dun has succeeded with THE MAP, a 10-movement, 45-minute concerto for cello, video and orchestra [which] points the way toward the formation of a potentially important genre. This piece [is] dedicated to the enshrinement of ethnic cultures in China. Green leaves are blown upon to create different pitches, small stones are clicked together with crisp, percussive effects, and the singing is pure, unaccompanied and spontaneous. More than just an add-on, the video element made soloist-like dramatic entrances and exits...
David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer,01/01/0001
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