Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tan Dun - Water Passion | Auditorium Parco della Musica | 29 April, 2011

Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, soprano Maria Chiara Chizzoni and bass Renato Vielmi

Tan Dun on stage at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome after a performance of Water Passion
When Tan Dun last worked with the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in March last year, it was very much an audio-visual event with a performance of two of his most famous film scores – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Banquet – accompanied by projected highlights from both movies. On his return to Rome yesterday evening, the composer conducted the Choir of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in a work that was not only musically haunting, but also visually stunning and dramatically theatrical - Water Passion after St. Matthew.

Originally commissioned in 2000 by the International Bach-Akademie in Stuttgart to mark the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, Water Passion is an extraordinary retelling of the Passion of Jesus Christ inspired by the Gospel of Matthew, and filtered through the prism of the composer's own cultural influences. Western instruments such as the violin and the cello – played by Jiamin Wang and Amedeo Cicchese on this occasion - are used in ways that recall those from China and Mongolia, the soloists use vocal techniques derived from the Peking Opera and Tuvan throat-singing, whilst the choir, as well as chanting Buddhist-style, also plays stones and Tibetan bells. It may sound like a curiously eclectic mix, but the resulting musical experience is mesmerizing and very moving.

The sound of water, the central motif of the entire piece, appropriately begins and closes the Passion, and is the most audacious part of the composition with the three percussionists - Beibei Wang, Marco Bugarini and Edoardo Albino Giachino - quite literally 'playing' water as a percussion instrument, lifting and splashing handfuls in bowls, slapping it with plastic cups, even striking floating upturned dishes. Water Passion is scored for “Water-Instruments-Orchestra” and indeed, the stage in the Santa Cecilia hall yesterday was dominated by 17 large transparent bowls, filled with water, lit from below and arranged in the shape of a cross. These water bowls were the symbolic focal point of the piece right up until its breathtaking closing moments, when the lights dimmed and members of the chorus, the musicians and even Tan Dun himself, moved towards them, dipped their hands into the water and the hall was filled with gentle splashing sounds.

Rapturous applause broke the silence as the last lapping sounds of water faded and prolonged cheers of appreciation continued as each of the leads took their bows and choir master Ciro Visco joined Tan Dun on stage.

An absolute must-see performance – I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to see this work performed live!

Water Passion – Full programme

Part I
Last Supper
Water Cadenza
In The Garden Of Gethsemane

Part II
Stone Song
Give Us Barabbas!
Death and Earthquake
Water and Resurrection

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Christopher Walken in Conversation - A Journey Through American Cinema

Christopher Walken on stage in Rome
Hot on the heels of the encounter with Debra Winger at the end of March, yesterday evening saw another important milestone in the Viaggio nel cinema americano (A Journey Through American Cinema) discussions – an encounter with iconic American actor Christopher Walken. The excitement in the air was palpable at the Auditorium Parco della Musica before the event, with considerably more people than usual hanging around the foyer and, unusually for Roman audiences, ticket holders taking their seats early in what turned out to be a sold-out Sala Petrassi. When the lights finally dimmed, we were treated to a montage of best movie moments on the big screen, followed by the surprise entrance of the man himself - an imposing figure, dressed all in black - who rather than appearing from the wings, walked down the side aisle through the audience, before climbing onto the stage to enormous cheers and applause.

The success of these encounters, in which informal conversation and questions are interspersed with film clips, relies very much, of course, on the complicity of the star, and in Christopher Walken regular hosts Mario Sesti and Antonio Monda found a generous and humorous raconteur, willing to share numerous anecdotes. A constant throughout the entire evening was Walken's respect for other actors and directors with whom he has worked and indeed, the evening began with a tribute to recent losses to cinema, two previous Viaggio nel cinema americano guests – Sidney Lumet, whom Walken remembered as a great director and the man who had given him his first screen role in The Anderson Tapes, and Arthur Penn, another great director whom he admired as a fine teacher at The Actors Studio.

With a career as prolific as that of Christopher Walken before them, choosing a handful of representative movie clips must have been a daunting task for Sesti and Monda, but the selection made was spot on and gave us a taste of all facets of the man's career, allowing us to hear his insights on working with directors as diverse as Woody Allen, Stephen Spielberg, Michael Cimino, David Cronenberg, Abel Ferrara and Quentin Tarantino, to name but a few of the directors on the roll-call last night. Clips from Annie Hall, King of New York, Catch Me If You Can, The Dead Zone as well as the Italian movie Celluloid, were all shown, but his memorable gold watch monologue from Pulp Fiction, a clip from his Academy Award winning performance in The Deer Hunter and his dazzling dance routine in Spike Jonze's award winning music video for Fatboy Slim's Weapon Of Choice, inevitably garnered the biggest cheers of the evening. Walken, in fact, trained as a dancer in musical theatre prior to his cinema acting career – when asked if it was true that he would always insist that directors allow him to dance in every film he made, he smiled: I used to – but not any more […] people started to mention it in reviews...they would say “Christopher Walken danced for no reason!” Later, he declined the invitation to dance for us live on stage, joking: I'm not going to dance for you tonight...because my leg is broken!

My favourite anecdote of the evening occurred after the wonderful final scene of Tim Burton's Gothic horror film Sleepy Hollow. When approached by Burton to play the part of the Headless Horseman he warned the director that: I don't do dangerous stuff – I don't ride motorcycles, jump out of a planes... or ride a horse! Burton solved the horse riding problem by providing the actor with Elizabeth Taylor's robotic horse from the movie National Velvet. I rode Elizabeth Taylor’s horse! he recounted with obvious delight.

Answering half a dozen or so questions from the audience at the end of the encounter, the evening closed to final rapturous applause and he even stopped to sign a handful of autographs for a few lucky fans! A fantastic evening with a superstar!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Expressionism live: Silent movies set to music by writers at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni

Fans of German Expressionist Cinema can enjoy a rare treat in Rome this week with a series of very special screenings at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni of some of the silent movie genre's most famous films. In this retrospective each movie is given a contemporary musical score consisting of tracks chosen by Italian writers and then played live during the screening by some of the best local deejays – a fascinating experiment that has to be experienced to fully appreciate this fresh approach to these cinematic masterpieces.

On Saturday evening I was lucky enough to have caught the showing of Pandora's Box directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst and starring the enduringly charismatic Louise Brooks. The musical selection by Letizia Muratori, mixed by deejay DandywOlly, was an eclectic mix that worked incredibly well – sometimes comic, always surprising, there were songs by artists that ranged from Frank Sinatra to the inspired choice of The Tiger Lillies, interspersed with hypnotic sounds. Rufus Wainwright's The Dream from All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu was perhaps the most explicit reference to the protagonist and rightfully deserved a prominent place in the play-list.

The retrospective continues this week – click here for full programme details.

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