Debussy: La Mer; Tan Dun: Water Concerto; Beethoven: Symphony No. 6, ‘Pastoral’

Beibei, Degagnés, Dunsmore, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal/Nagano

Usher Hall, 19 August 2011 4.5 stars

Tan DunIn this EIF concert Kent Nagano conducted the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal in a performance that was truly worthy of high praise. The programme opened with a moving performance of Debussy's La Mer. From a dreamy seascape, to crashing waves of stormy sound, the orchestra crafted vivid, colourful scenes, depicting the various aspects of the sea.

A truly visual piece, it was an appropriate precursor to Tan Dun's Water Concerto, which took the visual imagery of Debussy's sea to a whole new level.

One could not ignore the six giant water bowls on stage from the start of the concert – it was evident that we were in for a unique experience. Solo percussionist Wang Beibei was the focus of the Water Concerto, supported by water percussionists, Serge Desgagnés and Andrew Dunsmore. In four continuous movements, Beibei created constant movement, rhythm, and sound. Her graceful manipulation of the water offered a truly visual representation of the ultimate percussive experience. A variety of objects including upturned bowls, cups, and gongs were submerged into water and struck with hands and mallets, creating extraordinary rhythmic patterns and tones.

Beibei's rhythmic energy was captivating and relentless, as she not only played the water bowls, but also moved around the stage, still maintaining rhythm with a tube shaker, moving to a prepared vibraphone solo at the back of the orchestra. The lengthy cadenzas were fascinating, even comical at times, as the first row of the audience were visibly splashed with water spilling over the edge of the bowls!

All eyes were on Beibei, but the orchestra was also essential in conveying the character of Tan's work. Sharp bursts of colour in the brass were followed by screeching, squawking, whistling, and undulating vibratos, using reeds and mouthpieces – all unconventional sounds created by conventional instruments, displaying the diversity of an orchestra and its limitless possibilities of sound. This is a work that is just as riveting to listen to as it is to watch.

Concluding the programme, Nagano returned to tradition and continued to celebrate the elements in Beethoven’s own tribute to nature, the 'Pastoral' Symphony. The work returned the audience to a place of nostalgic comfort with its familiar bird calls, country dances, and joyful celebration. No surprises here, but rather an excellent rendition of a classic favourite.

Conductor Nagano exuded incredible sensitivity through his graceful, almost dance-like rhythms. Letting go sometimes but also encouraging to his musicians where needed, Nagano remained meticulously attentive throughout the evening's performance, though never overbearing in any way. The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal responded exceedingly well to Nagano's subtle requests – a true musical partnership.

By Theresa Steward

Photo: Tan Dun


dervishRelated articles:

Concert Review: The opening night of the the 2011 EIF
Concert review: Jonathan Biss at the Edinburgh Festival
Concert Review: Martha Argerich at the 2011 EIF

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