Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest

Programme notes

Late Night with Bonsai Panda

In late 2019, Bonsai Panda was invited to play at the 2020 Gergiev Festival. A huge honor for the ensemble that comes more from the jazz corner but is hugely influenced by the great composers of the 20th century. They were asked to incorporate the festival theme of ‘St. Petersburg’ into a composition. ‘Since Leningrad is about a siege by ‘force from without,’ we struggled with the theme because what people experienced in time of war is almost impossible for us to imagine.’ It was the early 2020s and the world was about to change drastically. They came up with: ADEM 

The play ADEM was written as a profane prayer to remind us of our human integrity, compassion, and our right to freedom - especially in times when they are compromised. This ‘prayer’ also allows us to reflect on and learn from our past, while honoring the youth, those who are the architects of our future. The Dutch word 'ADEM' means breath and represents life, its people and their future. 'ADEM' is used as an alternative to the religious statement 'Amen'. The first part, In Ere Adem means: in honor of Adem. You can hear the repeated 'prayer' in the deep bass voices as the tenor sings the main melody which quickly spreads through the choir like a canon. Soon an indefinable uneasy feeling takes hold of the choir as it sings questioningly glissandi. A musical saw enters and creates a more otherworldly/alien feeling. The main melody reappears briefly in the soprano and horn parts, guitar and drums disrupt the continuing stoic singing with loud, harsh interruptions. Then the march theme from Dmitri Shostakovich's 7th symphony ‘Leningrad’ appears with the altos and soprano. The drums and baritone guitar enter the stage in a penetrating and somewhat arrogant manner. After a wildly chaotic section where everyone is struggling with different emotions, the world is calmed by the choir humming a ‘classical’ chorale. The chorale is based on the main theme, but now initiated by the basses. The melody unfolds using the melodic source material but in different rhythms and keys. The chorale ends with a very open and static chord, a prelude to the finale. The main melody is sung in a final canon that transposes itself and forms some open, sustained chords. The tempo slows down a bit and the dynamics decrease even more. 'Make silence shout and noise numb, in honor breath' and normal life as we know it has come to a halt. 

As a sequel to 'In Ere Adem', 'Snak' is a piece about the threats to our human values. It describes the individualistic society of our time and its disconnection from our original beliefs and hopes that society does not underestimate the importance of these values and beliefs. In Dutch, 'snakken naar adem' means 'to gasp for breath'. Don't we all yearn for freedom? 

The melodic content of 'Snak' is based on the two main melodies of 'In Ere Adem' which have developed into four modes of eight notes each. The first movement begins with a pinched feel where the trombone, horn and tenors play and sing a haunting eternal melody. The guitar and drums play a fragmented beat while the stubborn altos and soprano scream alarming diving portamenti. Only the soprano saxophone represents a glimpse of freedom by improvising rapidly fragmented chaotic phrases. As the first movement emphasizes chaos, the next segment will follow to bring the chaos back into structure. The soprano saxophone leads the melody that bounces like a stone lapping over water. In the next passage, the choir sings with a metallic abrasive sound, like an obedient army platoon. The chorus repeatedly shouts ‘The mouth holds your head’ as a cry for freedom. The choir builds a new section in which each voice has its own words, rhythms and notes. Together they form a large cluster chord that communicates the uneasy feeling of loneliness and distance from others. The use of Esperanto evokes an even more alienated feeling. ADEM's final chorale symbolizes the hope for social reconciliation - to never forget our human integrity, compassion and our right to freedom. 

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