On 13 December, Mei-Ann Chen will conduct the Residentie Orkest in Tchaikovsky’s suite ‘Swan Lake’, a ballet filled with tragic, melancholy melodies. We talked to Mei-Ann about ‘dark’ and ‘light’ and posed the question: can dark music be as uplifting as cheerful tunes?
Almost everyone loves music. And from childhood, we all immediately experience the essential difference between minor and major: between sombre and cheerful music. It’s quite amazing. Mei-Ann says, “Experiencing music is innate to each person; even babies respond to it. As I’ve taken a position in Graz (Austria), I’m now learning German and can tell you that it’s much harder than the language of music. Music is universal! Wherever you might be in the world, people instantly grasp the cheerful message of ‘Happy Birthday’, although many do not understand the words. I think it’s just how people are wired. Experiencing and making music: it’s a gift to humanity.”
It’s easy to understand why everyone loves happy music, but why do we love melancholy, tragic music too?
“We’re all attracted to the darkness. The melancholy, the mystical, the threatening; it appeals to our fears. Music can give voice to the darkness in a way that is safe to us but yet intimate and insistent. When I was 28, my career wasn’t going smoothly and I felt very sad. One night, I went to a concert where Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique, was being performed. You know, after two minutes I was crying like a little kid! That tragic music touched me deeply, precisely because I was feeling so down. And funnily enough, it comforted me and gave me the courage to keep going. That’s the power of music, even in minor key, which gets deeper into the soul than any other art form.”
What kind of music will we hear in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake suite?
“His ballet ‘Swan Lake’ is a fairy tale about enchanted princesses, an evil wizard, a prince in love… and it doesn’t have a happy ending. The music is sometimes cheerful but often melancholy and sad. No one will be left unmoved. And the great thing about it is that we, the musicians, experience this music along with the audience in exactly the same way. Music, whether happy or sad, brings people together on a spiritual level.”
Into the Light
Friday 13 december 2019
€27 / €39 / €48 / €55