By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
All that would be meaningless if they didn't write "top tunes" (Noel's words) that ring inside your head for days: "Stand By Me," which could be the new "Wonderwall," or the big and bouncy "Be Here Now," full of pure, kidlike joy. Or the mean rocker "Fade In-Out," building slowly on a slimy slide-guitar riff and Liam's gravelly voice yet never reaching a climax. Or the high-octane optimism of "It's Gettin' Better (Man!!)." Exuberance is the key, with layer upon layer of guitars, lush orchestrations, big and boomy drums, and overconfident vocals. The finale, "All Around the World (Reprise)," is very Beatle-esque -- naturally. Strings and horns collide in a crescendo like the ending of a big Technicolor movie, one in which the five honchos drive into the sunset in a chocolate-brown Rolls-Royce. Those damn rock and roll stars.
Initially, I thought the reunification of Hong Kong with the Chinese mainland was a pretty lousy subject to write a celebratory symphony about. If, however, one puts political issues aside, one might be able to affirm with sincerity that "all men are brothers" if one is unusually optimistic.
I have no doubt that Hunan-born composer Tan Dun is an optimist. The two years he spent working in the rice paddies of China during the Cultural Revolution didn't change that. A resident of New York City since 1986, Tan has captured the attention of the international classical music scene in the past five years with his concert and stage music, and for his -- if you can believe it -- approachable experimentation, which includes music made with paper and stones. There's little that's experimental about Symphony 1997, which the composer has subtitled Heaven Earth Mankind. It's a lush and cinematic work for full orchestra, solo cello, children's choir, and 65 bronze bells (exhumed recently from the tomb of a Chinese nobleman) that are more than 2400 years old. Shangri-la might sound like this; those who search a lost horizon for contemporary classical music that pleases the ear without numbing the brain will be rewarded by this work. Proudly eclectic, Tan blends traditional Chinese music, allusions to Western classical music (including Beethoven's "Ode to Joy"), and a taste of Hollywood with his stylistic explorations. Though sometimes confusing, it's never dull.
The well-recorded performances on Symphony 1997 are by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Yip's Children's Choir, and the Imperial Bells Ensemble of China, all conducted by the composer.
Calling All Stations
First Peter Gabriel left Genesis, but the group lived on. Then Phil Collins left -- it still didn't die. Then tiresome pomp-rockers Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks hired a new vocalist, John Wetton-imitator Ray Wilson, who causes Calling All Stations to sound like warmed-over Asia. Isn't there anything that can kill this group? Really. I want to know.