Friday, April 22, 2011

The movie glutton goes to the symphony

Last weekend during Fort Worth's Main Street Arts festival, I took the kids to the Fort Worth Symphony's Open House.  They had an instrument petting zoo and played a short concert.  Zippy was restless, Chloe covered her face, but Elliot and I enjoyed it.  In the little goody bag they were giving away we found a pass for one adult and one child to attend the symphony for free.  Elliot and I returned Saturday night for the concert.  We were thrilled when we picked up our free tickets--center orchestra, row G!  Not many better seats in the house!  When I go, I usually sit WAY up top in the cheap seats!

The first piece on the program was the short "Huayno Sinfonico 'Cascay'" by the 20th century Peruvian composer Francisco Pulgar Vidal.  One of the things I love about Miguel Harth-Bedoya's tenure at the Fort Worth Symphony is his introduction of the works of lesser-known Latin American composers.  Several times each year the symphony will feature a piece from South America.  This Vidal piece gave a lively start to the night.

The featured selection for the night, Tan Dun's "Water Concerto," tested the tastes of symphony goers.  Tan Dun, best known for his award-winning soundtrack for the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, composed this concerto to include a variety of water-based instruments.  The features soloist, renowned percussionist David Cossin, had two big bowls of water and various implements to splash and drum in them.  Two Fort Worth symphony percussionists accompanied him.
Some examples of the use of water: patting and slapping the water with his hands, flicking his fingers in the water, beating the surface of the water with upturned plastic cups, putting his hands in the water and raising them above the surface so that the water drips off.  He had a plastic tube in a separate container which he beat on with a flip-flop.  As he raised it in and out of the water it changed pitch.  Similarly, they had some gong-type instruments and some bells that they played with mallets then raised and lowered them in the water to change pitch.  He floated salad bowls of various sizes upside down in the water and played them with mallets.  He had a funky looking stainless steel bowl full of water with handle at the top and rods sticking up all around it.  He played the bottom like a drum and used a bass bow to play the rods.  He also bowed the gongs.

While the use of water was clearly creative, and the music accompanying the water was certainly of high quality, I could help thinking I was getting hoaxed.  Mostly I was reminded of Stomp, when, for instance, they come on stage with a sink strapped to themselves and use the water and the metal of the sink to create a form of music.  I also thought Tan Dun must have done a lot of his composing in the bath  tub.

The final piece of the night was Beethoven's 7th symphony.  Now that's music!  Here were are, 200 years after he composed that great work, and it's still fresh and powerful.  (Harth-Bedoya noted beforehand that it was quite revolutionary at the time of its premiere.)  Tan Dun's work in contrast to Beethoven's reminded me of a visit to an art museum where you have an exhibit of some classic masterpieces, then step down the hall to the modern works.  The plain canvasses with simple geometric shapes, the splashes of paint, the non-representational art, the piles of trash and found objects in the modern art gallery may make some interesting artistic points, and some might not be that bad to look at, but mostly they are shallow works, requiring much less skill and insight than some timeless masterpieces, and that will be quickly forgotten.  While Tan Dun's "Water Concerto" was enjoyable to listen to (and watch--the percussionist was soaked by the end!), I have a feeling the Fort Worth Symphony of 2211 is much more likely to be playing Beethoven.

Try, just try to watch this without laughing out loud:

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