The Salisbury Symphony Orchestra presented its third concert of the season on Saturday, January 28, at Keppel Auditorium in Salisbury with a classical concert entitled "Wonders of Water" under the direction of Music Director David Hagy. The program consisted of works written about water, to be played on water, and to be played with water.
The program opened with excerpts from George Frederic Handel's Water Music Suite. There were actually three such suites, all written for barge excursions on the Thames by King George I and large groups of English nobility. Four excerpts from the F Major and D Major Suites were presented. Having heard many iterations of this work, I was fully prepared to be bored, but Maestro Hagy, placing the French horn chorus on the stage left proscenium and the trumpet chorus on the stage right, brought new life to the work. The horns and trumpets alternated back and forth with the strings, creating an unusual antiphonal effect. The horns were lush, the trumpets festive, and the strings and woodwinds sumptuous, befitting the royal origins of this work.
The piece de resistance was Tan Dun's Water Percussion Concerto, premiered in 1999 by the New York Philharmonic, with David Cossin as percussion soloist. Here, water itself becomes one of the instruments, with resonating bowls of water being splashed, slapped, and sloshed. Who knew that submerged bottles' bubbles, inverted glasses and salad bowls, gongs dipped into water, and colanders could become innovative percussion instruments? The Concerto also features many instruments devised by Tan.
The Concerto begins with a prelude and progresses through three connected movements which start slowly and mysteriously and become more rhythmic, with the final movement moving very quickly. The orchestral accompaniment is a combination of Chinese and Western musical sounds, all of which the orchestra handled with great aplomb.
Tan Dun, who is from the Hunan province of China, studied at Beijing's Central Conservatory. He is best known to the public for his Oscar-winning soundtrack to the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which features David Cossin as percussion soloist. Cossin, a specialist in new and experiment music, has an impressive résumé. Music Director David Hagy heard a performance of this work at the Venice Biennale last year, resulting in Cossin's appearance here. The work is an aural and visual spectacle, and the audience showed its approval and endorsement with a standing ovation, certainly a rarity for a very contemporary work. I, for one, would like to experience this Concerto again.
For the last half of this wonderful evening, the orchestra presented a majestic performance of Bedrich Smetana's "The Moldau," from his cycle of symphonic poems constituting Má Vlast (My Country). This is a musical description of the scenic images encountered by the river on its long journey through what was then Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. The orchestra performed Smetana's vision – its waves, hunting horns, dances, castles, and cataracts – with stunning precision and nobility.
The concert concluded with La Mer, by Claude Debussy. This is Debussy's largest orchestral work; it includes three movements recalling days at the seashores of England and France. Beginning at dawn, with a slow mysterious opening, the piece progresses through waves to end in an image of wind and sea melodies, filled with grandeur, light, and energy. Although there were some rhythm issues early on, the orchestra quickly recovered and carried the performance to a splendid conclusion.
Accolades must be extended to Maestro Hagy and the members of the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra for presenting this most remarkable and unusual program – and to the unusually large audience for having the courage to attend a concert featuring a largely unknown and contemporary work.