Make us your home page

Review: 'Water Concerto' at Florida Orchestra is a splashing success

It was a splashy affair, in every sense of the word. People who didn't realize they were seeing the concert hall equivalent of Shamu moved from their seats in the front row. But their eyes were still bombarded with a spectacle.

And John Shaw, principal percussionist of the Florida Orchestra, showed just how virtuosic playing in a tub of water can be.

He's leading a group of two other percussionists — David Coash and Kurt Grissom — this weekend in performances of Tan Dun's Water Concerto. Friday's performance at the Straz Center in Tampa was nothing short of impressive. I heard several people discussing during intermission — as the stage was being mopped — that they couldn't understand how Tan Dun notated the piece on paper. In actuality, the nuances and how to achieve them are not exactly on the page.

Shaw said at the pre-concert talk that he learned a lot of the non-standard techniques used during the piece in the bathtub as a 2-year-old. The rest he learned from a DVD of the composer conducting the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.

Tan Dun wanted the work to be intoxicating, both aurally and visually. The instruments are fascinating to watch and hear, but the orchestra added another layer by turning down the main lights and illuminating the large bowls of water used throughout.

There were quite a few standout moments during the performance. It started with Shaw playing a waterphone in the audience. His slow, ritualistic walk to the stage was reminiscent of a thurifer in a Catholic ceremony (the person who carries the incense to the altar). Shortly after he arrived, the ducklike sounds of deconstructed wind instruments started. Then the percussionists started slapping and flicking the water in synchronized rhythms.

At one point, Shaw was in unison with principal cellist James Connors as he dipped a gong in and out of the water to match pitch — not easy. But perhaps most impressive was when Shaw placed four wooden salad bowls in the water top down. As he struck them with his hands and sticks creating complex rhythms, they rotated around the basins becoming moving targets. Not a single miss, at least to my eye.

After Shaw traveled to the back of the stage to play a modified vibraphone, the strings got to play a bit of percussion themselves by slapping all of their strings in between phrases. Shaw didn't stop the rhythms when he moved back to the front while striking his mallets together, weaving through the violinists. He finished the work by dipping a large sieve into the basin, lifting it over his head to create a waterfall effect, and then plunging it back into the bowl. The biggest splash of the night. Shaw, drenched at this point, was surprised when a little girl who was brave enough to stay in the front row reached up to shake his hand while taking his bows.

The Haydn that started the concert, Symphony No. 103 in E-flat major, was not bad by any means, but I've honestly heard most sections of the orchestra sound significantly better. And after the excitement of the Water Concerto, Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 in D major seemed a bit pedantic at times, although an admirable performance. Some of the audience shouted "Bravo!" as guest conductor Rossen Milanov painstakingly made sure to acknowledge anyone who had even a small solo.

.If you go

Tan Dun's Water Concerto

Rossen Milanov is guest conductor for the evening, which also includes Haydn's Symphony No. 103, "Drum Roll" and Sibelius' Symphony No. 2. The final performance is 7:30 p.m. today at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. $15-$45, (727) 892-3337.

Review: 'Water Concerto' at Florida Orchestra is a splashing success 04/26/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 5:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 24


    Zac Brown Band: The country, folk and Southern rockers embark on the "Welcome Home" tour in support of the album. 7 p.m., MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. $27.50-$77.50. (813) 740-2446.

    Handout photo of the Zac Brown Band, performing at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on 9/24/17. Credit: Shore Fire Media
  2. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 23


    Smithsonian Museum Day Live: Museums across the nation partner with the Smithsonian to offer free admission for one day. Among them are Florida Holocaust Museum, Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs.Cracker Country in Tampa, Ringling Museum of Art. Note: Dalí Museum is free for Pinellas County …

    The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg is among the museums participating in the Smithsonian's Museum Day Live, offering free admission. (LANCE ROTHSTEIN   |  Special to the Times)
  3. Tampa Repertory's 'Flying' soars in some places, sputters in others


    TAMPA — Tampa Repertory Theatre has always insisted on putting on plays that mean something. Several shows over the last couple of years have zeroed in on the social and cultural baggage that comes with being female (The Children's Hour, Silent Sky and Grounded come to mind). None of those …

    The Southeastern premiere of Flying, Sheila Cowley's play at Tampa Repertory Theatre about veterans of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots, includes (from left) Holly Marie Weber, Rosemary Orlando, and Becca McCoy. Photo by Megan Lamasney.
  4. After 22 years, it's last call for beloved Ybor venue New World Brewery

    Music & Concerts

    YBOR CITY — Steve Bird spreads his tools across a patio table. He has awnings to unbolt and paraphernalia to unpry, from the busted Bop City neon by the stage to the Simpsons "El Duffo o Muerte" mural in the courtyard. He'll uproot a fountain and dismantle a roof and attempt to keep his bar intact. The …

    Various decor and memorabilia fill the walls and shelves at New World Brewery in Ybor City.
Long time music venue and hangout New World Brewery in Ybor City will be closing it's doors and moving locations. Patrons enjoy one of the last events before New World Brewery changes its location to Busch Blvd in Tampa.  [Photo Luis Santana | Times]