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