Composer Tan Dun stands in the pit in the Academy of Music for a special dress rehearsal for Philadelphia school students this week lucky enough to see a run-through of the East Coast premiere of his opera Tea.
Dun’s music is familiar to moviegoers for his Oscar winning score to the international hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and a new generation of classical fans saw him conduct the YouTube Symphony Orchestra in the premiere of his Internet Symphony “Eroica” at Carnegie Hall.
At the Academy, Dun is a completely at ease in a blue t and black trousers, instructing the tech crew, giving the orchestra members a new page of music and otherwise smiling and joking with the audience.
He repeatedly tries to sync the curtain drop with an orchestral cue. Tea’s special sound effects uses various natural elements including a woman who is playing splashing sounds over a bowl. It also features an array of array of authentic Chinese and Japanese percussion instruments, and other classicism as the musical spine of Tea.
Dun writes unexpected vocal components, like hissing, but other modulations that sound like universal seed sounds in tantric chanting. Most evident in the ariatic dialogues and majestic crescendos with eerie fades. Even in the concert hall his symphonic vistas that are cinematic.
He looks for a moment like he stares at the baton then stabs into the air for an earsplitting fortissimo that makes the audience jump and laugh. Tea is the story of a Princess and intrigue that swirls around her betrothal and the secrets of that mystical book of tea. A woman in a red silk sari comes out of the floor ala Martha Graham, a story high mandala cube opens up into a staircase with masked court jesters and the priests conjure palace intrigue.