Tan Dun’s Symphonic Poem of 3 Notes
Notes by TŌN violinist Yinglin Zhou
Imagine if someone was preparing a surprise birthday party for you, and they asked a Grammy Award-winning composer to compose a new piece for you. That’s exactly what happened when Symphonic Poem of 3 Notes was written. The Teatro Real Opera in Madrid invited Tan Dun to write a piece for Placido Domingo while they were planning his 70th birthday celebration. Because of the similar sound of Placido’s name and the music notes la-si-do, Tan Dun decided to use these three notes as the musical theme of this piece. The composer says that these three notes remind him of “the ABC phenomenon—the meaning of things starting, of beginning and the origin of everything.”
For me, the opening percussion reminds me of morning bells inside the temple. Along with the high pitches that are played by all the strings, it draws an image of a breezy morning with birds migrating in the air. The beginning of a new day, or even new life, is well portrayed. Tan Dun uses a variety of sounds and textures to develop the theme la-si-do after it’s played by the brass. The sound of stones and of the woodwinds’ mouthpieces keep interfering while the theme is being evolved into an intensive climax. The most fascinating part of this piece, to me, is the vocal part toward the end. The simple yet powerful shouting functions as an eraser, wiping out all the stresses in life, and brings us back to the hopeful chanting—like beginning, a new beginning of life.