Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and conductor Tan Dun gave us a sumptuous musical banquet for Chinese New Year with more exotic main fare framed by familiar western repertoire.
Manuel de Falla's Ritual Fire Dance catapulted dramatically between flicker and roar while Stravinsky's Firebird Suite cast gentle poetry around fiery brilliance.
Tan Dun's Farewell My Concubine Concerto was the centrepiece, driven by the fascinating interplay of pianist Ralph van Raat and Peking Opera soprano Xiao Di. This was a sonic feast in itself; Van Raat's fingers fluently evoked a century of contemporary idioms, while the Xiao's exquisite vocals referenced an older culture and were delivered with stylised movements that even allowed for graceful swordplay.
The orchestra was an equal partner, incorporating delicate water effects and ghostly chants, a hypnotic backdrop that can be tasted again when RNZ Concert broadcasts the concert on Saturday.
Tan's Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds proved a crowd-pleaser as we pulled out our cellphones to create canopies of birdsong. It was magical, eerily so when the players, phones in hand, returned the favour. There were arresting orchestral subtleties but the rigorous working out of the main theme revealed its origins as a piece for younger musicians.
Tan Dun himself projected a captivating mix of serenity, bristling emotions and impish humour, making an encore of Li Huanzhi's rather corny Spring Festival Overture quaintly touching
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra