A Splashing Good Time At Symphony

Saturday night I attended the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concert. The program had a Chinese flavor to it in preparation for the orchestra playing at a Chinese festival in New York this week.

The second number was “Water Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra” by Tan Dun. Watching the stagehands set up for this was very entertaining. First they put down some mats on the floor. The first set of mats were placed next to the conductor, the usual spot for a guest soloist. There were also mats placed at either side of the stage. Pedestals were placed on the mats which were topped with large clear glass bowls. The bowls were the size of a large punch bowl. Various other things were placed nearby to the bowls which were filled with water. Plexiglass shields were erected between the percussionists and the other instruments in the orchestra.   Audience members in the front row were protected by rain ponchos.  Microphones were set up over the bowls of water.

The soloist was Colin Currie. He was assisted by the principal percussionist and the associate principal percussionist from the orchestra. The man sitting  behind me and I were joking about these preparations. I wondered if the players practiced at home in the dish pan.

When the concerto started, Mr. Currie came down the aisle playing something that looked sort of like a brass box topped by “ribs” which came almost to a point. He would slide a bow across the ribs and then swirl the instrument in the air. Once on the stage, the orchestra accompanied the three percussionists who paddled in the bowls, or stirred them, or struck metal plates and dipped them in the bowls. They had clear cups or glasses which they used to strike the surface of the water. Water was flying out of the bowls.  Mr. Currie put a set of what appeared to be hollow wooden bowls upside down in his two basins and struck them for a part of the piece. At the conclusion, he removed those and sank a large collander in one basin. Then he pulled it up and the water draining through it was like a waterfall.

It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard.

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