MSO rings in Lunar New Year with twittering birds and roaring guitars

A hit with the audience: Composer and conductor Tan Dun.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Hanggai
Hamer Hall, February 13

Now in its sixth year, attending MSO’s Lunar New Year performance has become an annual tradition for many in Melbourne’s Chinese community. But while some came on Wednesday night to hear the orchestra ring in the year of the pig, others came solely for Hanggai – the Mongolian folk-rock seven-piece – playing alongside them.

Our conductor, MC and extempore philosopher for the evening, Oscar-winning composer Tan Dun, was a thoroughly charming guide on this East-meets-West odyssey, a dynamic force on the podium and a sage raconteur with the audience.

Mongolian fusion: Hanggai proved to be consummate showmen.

The members of Hanggai, whose music fuses classic rock with traditional Mongolian instruments and vocal techniques, were also consummate showmen, shredding guitars and pumping fists throughout. Playing a handful of their songs with added orchestral accompaniment, the effect occasionally lacked detail and finesse. Piling fusion on top of fusion felt, at times, like too much of a good thing.

As in previous years, Dun’s compositions also featured in the program. Principal bassist Steve Reeves impressively navigated the assault course of ferocious technical demands in his exotically textured concerto Wolf Totem.

Piling fusion on top of fusion felt, at times, like too much of a good thing

And, using a specially created mobile phone app, concertgoers could join in the performance of Dun's Secret of Wind and Birds, playing digitally created birdsong that accumulated into a shrill murmuration of pulsing noise.

The audience's response was unequivocal, and rare for such experimental art music: the entire concert hall was in raptures.

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