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Tan Dun Conducts Two Sold-Out Performances of His Water Passion at The Metropolitan Museum (Nov 14)

When Tan Dun conducted the world premiere of his Water Passion After St. Matthew, he received “an ecstatic 15-minute standing ovation”; as The Times of London observed, “Like its model, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, [Water Passion] transcends language, cultural and religious divides.” Now, on November 14, the Grammy and Academy Award-winning international conductor, composer, and visual artist leads the Manhattan School of Music Chamber Choir in two sold-out performances of his epic 90-minute oratorio in The Temple of Dendur in The Sackler Wing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The vocal solos will be undertaken by soprano Jennifer Zetlan and bass-baritone Stephen Bryant, whose haunting overtone singing also graced both the world and American premieres.

Co-commissioned by the International Bach Academy of Stuttgart to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death, Water Passion was written in response to the Baroque master’s St. Matthew Passion. Initially, as a non-Christian, Tan Dun was hesitant about the commission. He recalls:

“I was nervous about presenting a story that has lived in peoples’ hearts in another culture for thousands of years. But I was excited because it is such a powerful, dramatic, operatic story. And I thought, we are in a global village now, this very powerful story must be shared.”

His resulting Water Passion uses a remarkably wide range of vocal styles, from Tuvan throat singing to the characteristically high pitches of Peking Opera, and is scored for Chinese folk instruments and electronic sampling as well as for solo violin and cello. Like Bach’s, Tan Dun’s text is drawn primarily from the gospel of St. Matthew. Uniquely, though, his oratorio begins and ends with the sound of water, opening with Christ’s baptism and closing with an evocation of the resurrection. He explains:

“When I read the account of the Passion in the Bible, I heard the wind, the sound of the desert. Perhaps for other readers of the Passion, every image is red and bloody – but instead I always felt the desert heat, and heard the stones and the water. So I shaped the story through those sounds, giving the element of water an important theme. Not only does it stand for baptism, but also for renewal and rebirth. It is cyclical. Water evaporates, becomes clouds, rains to the earth, and evaporates again. The sound of water is in my composition like a passacaglia theme – it is always present.”

Water also serves as a powerful visual image in Tan Dun’s oratorio, which features 17 transparent water bowls, lit from below, set out on stage in the form of a large cross. The gallery is an especially apt setting for Tan Dun’s homage to Bach; as he says, “I love Bach’s counterpoint, not just as note against note, but also as language against language, image against image, culture against culture.

Further details of the two upcoming performances are available here.

High-resolution promotional photos may be downloaded here.


Tan Dun’s Water Passion After St. Matthew at The Metropolitan Museum

Nov 14|
New York, NY
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Temple of Dendur in The Sackler Wing)

Tan Dun: Water Passion After St. Matthew
Part One: Baptism; Temptations; Last Supper; Water Cadenza; In The Garden Of Gethsemane
Part Two: Stone Song (Peter And Judas); Give Us Barabbas; Death And Earthquake

Stephen Bryant, baritone
Jennifer Zetlan, soprano
Adi Boyanova, violin
Felix Fan, cello
David Cossin, lead percussion
Yuanlin Chen, keyboard
Manhattan School of Music Chamber Choir
Tan Dun, conductor

Inspired by the Met’s China: Through the Looking Glass exhibition, the performances are made possible by Adrian Cheng, with additional funding from Sarah Solomon Billinghurst.

About Met Museum Presents:

The live arts series at The Metropolitan Museum of Art that explores contemporary innovations through the lens of the Museum’s exhibitions and unparalleled gallery spaces with singular performances and talks. Met Museum Presents invites artists, performers, curators, and thought-leaders to explore and collaborate within The Met, leading with groundbreaking commissions, world premieres, and site-specific durational performances.

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© 21C Media Group, October 2015

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