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Have You Heard: Christopher Tin

I started writing this blog on the train home to Edinburgh following a fantastic, music-filled, trip to London. Now, I'm sitting comfortably at my desk with a cup of tea and I'm ready to continue! Perhaps unsurprisingly, I find writing music far easier. The reason is probably because today I have a lot to say and I want to say it well, so I've been taking my time to write it. I should warn you that this post is part concert review, part unadulterated hero-worship. Oh, and there may or may not be various nautical references dotted throughout, partly because they’re cool, but also because they relate to the theme of the second half of the concert.

On Tuesday (19th July 2016) I was lucky enough to attend Christopher Tin’s concert at the Cadogan Hall in London. I have adored Tin’s music ever since I happened to hear a choir sing an a cappella version of Baba Yetu - his Grammy award winning song for the video game Civilization IV. So, when I heard he would be travelling to the UK to do a tour I just knew I had to be there.

I was rather excited...

When I arrived at Cadogan Hall (one whole hour before the show was due to start) there were already a great many excited faces gathered in the foyer bar, clearly looking forward to the concert as much as I was. When it came time to take our seats I did get a bit of surprise when I realised I'd booked front row seats! What can I say, I was very keen.

The concert was, simply put, sublime. Performed by the flawless Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and sung by the immensely talented Angel City Chorale, Lucis, and Prima Vocal Ensemble choirs, it was a concert I will never forget.

The night opened with Flocks a Mile Wide, a beautiful piece conjuring images of birds in flight, from Tin’s newest album, and then moved swiftly onto the world premiere of Sogno di Volare, his stunning theme for the upcoming video game Civilisation VI. Next up were two of my personal favourite songs: Baba Yetu followed by Mado Kara Mieru - a powerful and moving setting of a Japanese poem that depicts the cyclic nature of life, death and rebirth. It was honestly a magical experience to hear one of my all-time favourite pieces of music performed by such talented musicians and singers. Mado Kara Mieru seemed to be slightly slower than I have previously heard, but for me this could only serve as a positive since it meant I got to hear the song for longer. We were treated to several more excerpts from the 'Calling All Dawns' album and then it was onto the second half of the concert.

One of the things I find most fascinating about Tin’s music is his ability to interpret many different languages and set them so perfectly to music. The second half of the concert was devoted entirely to his song cycle 'The Drop That Contained the Sea', which includes several languages spanning from Bulgarian, Sanskrit and Mongolian, just to name a few! It truly felt like we were being taken on a musical voyage around the world, and it’s a testament to Tin that with the many different languages the entire performance still felt cohesive and unified.

This is perhaps because although the songs are each in different languages, they share an underlying theme of water; its journey from a tiny drop falling to Earth, to an entire ocean, then returning to the sky to begin the cycle again. And then there are the cleverly orchestrated little recurring themes that are dotted throughout the songs, bringing with them little moments of recognition. Like stars in a constellation they guided us through the music, ensuring we never got lost.

It's hard for me to choose some songs to feature, as they really were all stunning, however, here are my select few that really stood out to me:

Tsas Narand Uyarna - "The Heart of Snow" - Tin's mastery of orchestration really shone for me in this piece, a Mongolian long song with sweeping, energetic strings, heraldic trumpet calls, and triumphant lower brass motifs. The strings swept through the sections so seamlessly, and there was an amazing visual element to this piece where you could see as well as hear the motifs move from high to low, violins to basses in a fluid motion almost like an orchestral Mexican wave! Subtle percussion kept the song constantly moving and changing, like the melted snow it depicted, and soloist Gina Suh’s effortless vocals soared over the tumultuous orchestra underneath. This song is up there with Baba Yetu and Mado Kara Mieru for me.

Seirenes - "Sirens" - I was quite literally spellbound by this hypnotic piece, which begins with glassy string harmonics that seem to depict an equally glassy and still water. The female voices begin with an enchanting melody, singing from Homer's 'The Odyssey' in Ancient Greek. This song sounded almost modal to me, although I can't be sure - I'll study the score and check. I felt this piece had an almost impressionistic feel, and it really evoked images of the waves as it built towards its turbulent conclusion.

I've always felt that Christopher Tin has a music-driven talent for storytelling: his songs always manage to conjure images for me. When this song neared its conclusion I had one of those moments again; when the tension was building to its climax I could suddenly imagine the Sirens guiding a ship into great danger, with waves crashing around it (and it's oblivious sailors who have been enchanted by the Sirens' song). Then suddenly...Silence. An eerie calm sweeps through the concert hall, and I know the Sirens have succeeded in their task as they slowly drift back beneath the surface of the waves.

The concert finished with my favourite piece of the night: Waloyo Yamoni - "We Overcome the Wind". I was really moved by this performance (so much so I nearly cried, but sshhh). A joyful and triumphant song, it describes the cycle of nature and of the water returning to the sky. Mirroring this, elements of the very first song of the cycle, Water Prelude, return indicating the cycle has completed. The soloists - Jimmer Bolden and Allie McNay - sang their parts beautifully, as did all of the singers when all three choirs joined for the thrilling finale.

I feel very privileged to have been one of the audience members at that concert on Tuesday night. It really was a magical, once-in-a-lifetime night, and rightly received a standing ovation from the audience. If you ever have the opportunity to go to a Christopher Tin concert - don't hesitate - JUST GO! It will be one of the most powerful, moving concerts you'll ever go to. I promise.

PS: Did I mention I got to meet Christopher Tin after the concert? No? I GOT TO MEET CHRISTOPHER TIN AFTER THE CONCERT.

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