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Tan Dun Water and Paper Concertos

Paper Concerto

Short Film - Paper: The Song of Nature
Tan Dun Demonstrates Paper Music
Tan Dun Teaches Paper Instruments

Paper Percussionists: Haruka Fujii (Solo)
Rika Fujii & Tamao Inano

Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Tan Dun

Opus Arte OA1013D [81 mins]

Water Concerto

Short Film – Water: The Tears of Nature
Tan Dun Teaches Water Instruments

Water Percussionists: David Cossin (Solo)
Rika Fujii & Tamao Inano

Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Tan Dun

Both concertos recorded live at Stockholm Concert Hall on 8th November 2007.

Opus Arte OA1014D [67 Mins]

These are problematic DVDs, projects that are fascinating, hugely stimulating yet disappointing in their culminations in over-ambitious and sometimes vacuous "concertos" with symphony orchestra.

The best parts of both discs are, to us unquestionably, the "extras", short films that are illuminating in developing and demonstrating Dun's idea of "organic music, which embodies sounds of nature, water, paper, ceramics, and the mind - tapping into something basic in the fabric of our lives".

See those first, and marvel at the pictures of life in Dun's ancestral village, at what can be done with water (in transparent bowls, lit from below) and with white paper, both fragile and some types unbreakable, deployed percussively and balletically, and revealing an infinity of sound possibilities, amplified and beautifully filmed for our delectation.

Both concertos proved (to us) musically less interesting than their genesis and origins, nor did they serve to vindicate Tan Dun's belief that "orchestral music, far from being static and traditional, still has the capacity for experimentation and the power to stimulate in extraordinary ways"; of course it has and does, but Dun is not thecomposer to show us how.

Indeed, the shots of the orchestral players, and the sounds they are called upon to produce, tended towards the embarrassing and banal, rapturous though the audience responses be, together with the critical receptions collected at the Tan Dun Organic Concert (Shanghai International Arts Festival) November 2008.

Perhaps some younger composers will be attracted to the musical potential of water and paper by Tan Dun's short films (more so than by the concertos) and I can envisage fruitful associations in chamber music. The marimba comes to mind as one that would go well with the water instruments, and the harpsichord with paper percussion? The concertos as seen on DVD give little clue as to the necessity, and importance, of amplification for turning these sounds into music?

They will be valuable stimulants for inspiring teachers at schools and, if you have children to entertain, do buy them.

Peter Grahame Woolf