In the last ten years the Mendelssohn Club has premiered two large-scale multimedia works that produced unforgettable experiences. This week it will present the Philadelphia premiere of a work that could be just as memorable: Tan Dun’s Water Passion after St. Matthew.
Tan Dun is best known for his Academy Award-winning score for the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. For me, he is primarily the composer of two large-scale multimedia, multicultural extravaganzas: The Map: Concerto For Cello, Video and Orchestra and Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women for Multimedia ahd Orchestra. The Philadelphia Orchestra has presented both pieces and they were just as powerful as the two Mendelssohn Club premieres. Both pieces made grand statements about our emerging global civilization.
The Water Passion after St. Matthew combines a mystical attitude toward water with multicultural musical techniques and a text that lies at the very heart of Western culture. The central instruments are 17 large clear bowls of water, played by three percussionists. The bowls are lit from below and arranged in the shape of a cross that divides the stage into four playing areas. Two of the areas contain choruses that meld Asian vocal traditions with Western four-part writing. The three string players in the third area play Western instruments, but produce sounds influenced by Asian instruments, such as the Mongolian fiddle. The two vocal soloists in the fourth area augment their vocal work with ancient Chinese ceramic flutes.
The sound of water runs through the entire piece, Tan Dun says, in the same way continuous themes run through certain kinds of Baroque music. Water stands for baptism, he says, but “also for renewal and rebirth. . . . Water evaporates, becomes clouds, rains to the earth, and evaporates again.”
The Mendelssohn Club will present Tan Dun’s Water Passion after St. Matthew on June 27, 2019, at 8pm at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut Street. Tickets range from $30 to $95, and are available at online, by phone (215) 898-3900, and at the door.