Tan Dun, Water Heavens
He is most widely recognised for the heartbreakingly beautiful score he composed for Ang Lee’s blockbuster movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it’s Tan Dun’s most recent musical offering that’s cemented his reputation as one of China’s most envelope-pushing contemporary composers. While working as a farmhand in his youth during the Cultural Revolution, Tan’s love of music led him to begin creating melodies via any means he could, often employing everyday objects like pots and pans as organic instruments. These non-traditional nuances have since typified his work, both in his birthplace and his adopted homeland America, but never have they played a more pivotal role than in his Water Heavens show, currently being staged on the outskirts of Shanghai.
Having commandeered a disused house in one of Qingpu district’s abandoned water towns, Zhujiajiao, Tan has re-routed the neighbouring river to flow into the structure, creating a waterlogged set that plays as big a part in the four-movement composition as the strings, pipa and percussionists. Water underfoot is stamped and splashed, filled bowls are slapped as makeshift drums, and support beams are struck, creating a truly experimental and unique performance spectacle that is as much a tourist attraction as it is a musical masterpiece. With a quietly beautiful rural setting and a symphony you can see come to life before your very eyes, this event might just be heaven for music-lovers indeed. Reach for the galoshes!