By coincidence, the year 2000 marked both the arrival of a new millennium and the 250th anniversary of the death of the great German Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
The International Bach Academy in Stuttgart decided to mark the occasion with a grand gesture: they commissioned four very different composers to write four new passion settings, one each after the Gospel accounts of the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. A German composer, Wolfgang Rihm, was chosen for the St. Luke Passion; a Russian, Sophia Gubaidulina, for St. John’s; an Argentine, Osvaldo Golijov, for St. Mark’s; and a Chinese composer, Tan Dun, for the Passion according to St. Matthew.
On today’s date in the year 2000, Helmuth Rilling conducted the premiere of Tan Dun’s “Water Passion after St. Matthew.” Tan said he was struck by the references to water in St. Matthew’s gospel, so his setting includes seventeen large illuminated bowls of water, positioned on stage in the form of a cross. These divide the chorus, with three percussionists and a group of additional soloists stationed at the four points of this cross.
In Tan’s “Water Passion,” natural sounds of water mix with a wide range of vocal techniques, including Tuvan throat singing and the stylized virtuosity of Peking Opera.
Critical reaction covered an equally wide range: some called Tan Dun’s “Water Passion” an important new work, others panned it as pretentious flim-flam.
Music Played in Today's Program
Tan Dun (b. 1957)Water PassionStephen Bryant, bass; Mark O'Connor, violin; ensemble; Tan Dun, cond.Sony 89927