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Composed: 2013
Length: c. 13 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo (= flute), 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons (3rd = contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, crash cymbals, drum set, roto-toms, snare drum, water basins), harp, strings, and solo violin, cello, and piano
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances

During the Cultural Revolution in China, Tan Dun planted rice and performed in a Peking opera company. At the age of 19 he entered the composition department of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing after it had reopened. He moved to New York in 1986 and completed a doctoral degree at Columbia University in 1993. Inspired by nature and Chinese philosophy, Tan Dun integrates elements of Western and Asian musical traditions, combining technological invention and deep spiritual reflection. He won the Grawemeyer Award for his opera Marco Polo in 1998, and an Academy Award and a Grammy in 2001 for his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon score.

Even before that multiple Oscar-winning film was released, Tan Dun had created a six-movement concerto from his score. It was premiered by cellist Yo-Yo Ma on September 30, 2000, at London’s Barbican Centre Festival: Fire Cross Water, where Tan Dun was artistic director. It may be accompanied by edited footage from the film, and the composer subsequently applied this concerto/film process to his music for Hero (2002) and The Banquet (2006), creating a Martial Arts Trilogy of solo concertos for cello, violin, and piano.

“The Trilogy was born out of the three greatest romantic martial arts films of our time, which were directed by three of its most influential directors: Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger), Zhang Yimou (Hero), and Feng Xiaogang (The Banquet),” Tan Dun said. “For me, the Martial Arts Trilogy was a preconceived project that started ten years ago and developed into a spiritual drama through three of the most important musicians of our time: Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and Lang Lang.”

In 2013, this trilogy became the Martial Arts Cycle with the addition of a triple concerto as a fourth movement, The Triple Resurrection, making references to the previous concertos and the film scores from which they were derived. In May 2013 Tan Dun led the MDR Sinfonieorchester in the world premiere of The Triple Resurrection in Leipzig.

“I wrote this piece for Wagner’s 200th birthday, because his idea of orchestral drama affected me so much,” the composer has said. “My triple concerto, which I named The Triple Resurrection, is a salute to Wagner’s very powerful Ring cycle. The Triple Resurrection has multiple layers of ideas concerning resurrection, reflected in the belief, the music, the drama, the opera, the cinema. Basically, orchestral drama has here been adapted into a form for the 21st century. Even with music written for film, the music on its own can tell the story and can convey fantastic drama.”

The Triple Resurrection begins softly, with the soloists alone suggesting the rippling water music that opens Das Rheingold. But the soloists also allude to the film scores, as this introduction develops over a steady bass pulse. The sonic water imagery is reinforced with actual water, dripped meditatively in two amplified basins. The three soloists play almost continually through the single movement of the concerto, and neither the bass pulsation or the arpeggio rippling are seldom far away. The piece builds to an insistent climax, colored with evocative special timbral effects – brass mouthpieces clapped, the harp played with a guitar pick, bows dancing with the wood on the strings – and coalescing into pure musical energy.

— J. H.