Unlike every other production at Chapin that I’d been to, seating for the Music From China and Talujon performance Wednesday was restricted to the first half of rows — the rest were taped off. In addition, access to the balcony seats was not allowed. It was clear that the Department of Music was attempting to make this performance much more personal than any other production of its kind; the close proximity to stage and the intimate atmosphere it created immediately caught my attention and drew me in.
Music From China, founded in New York in 1984, is a chamber ensemble that performs traditional and contemporary Chinese work. Talujon Percussion has been described by The New York Times as having an “edgy, unflagging energy,” and the duo performance by the two groups juxtaposed music across time and culture in a personal manner.
Although the concert was exceptional as a whole, my two favorite pieces were “Mount a Long Wind,” the opening piece, and “Ling Long,” the number played right before intermission.
“Mount a Long Wind,” performed by Music From China and percussionist Matthew Gold, is a piece that composer Zhou Long based off of the poem “The Hard Road,” written by Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai.
The poem is rife with intense imagery and its musical counterpart reflected its evocative nature. The piece was marked by swell after swell, vibrato after vibrato. Decrescendos in both volume and tempo were few in number, and the beat of the piece was constantly shifting and keeping the audience on its toes.
Although this may seem more like a chaotic instrumentation, the magic of the piece was in how all of its facets came together in a magnificent and harmonious conglomerate. Frantic and hurried moments highlighted the quiet and sonorous ones, and you felt more like you were watching a story being told by the five instruments on stage than a conventional musical performance. As the piece ended, and the last echoes of the flute faded into the rafters of Chapin, I was transported out of this wonderful story and back into my little, red, slightly uncomfortable seat.
The music department’s efforts to construct an intimate and personal atmosphere now seemed to make more sense — in the few minutes that it had taken for Music From China to perform “Mount a Long Wind,” I was wholly enveloped by the music and its story.
“Ling Long” was performed by Music From China and Talujon. According to the program notes, “Ling Long” “describes the clear, tinkling sound of jade when struck. … It represents serenity in chaos, regularity in complication and coherence in confusion.”
Taking advantage of the fact that both of the groups were on stage to perform, “Ling Long” was a stark contrast between the cold and chaotic tones of Talujon and the warmer character of Music From China. Throughout the piece, instruments such as the erhu and pipa played slow and resonant melodies supported by the rest of Music From China.
Instead of complementing this, Talujon played frantically and in complete disarray, representing the darker and disorderly part of the piece.
Due to its contrasting themes and arrhythmic nature, it was somewhat odd to see that all the musicians on stage were reading off of sheet music for this performance — the nature of the piece seemed much more impromptu, and the fact that all the musicians were using sheet music to perform made it much more impressive. It meant that the disorder and chaos I was hearing were, in fact, precisely calculated.
As a whole, Music From China and Talujon performed remarkably. Watching them was an exceptional experience.