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Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011

Unique Water Show in MSO's 'Romantic Brahms'

Review

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On Friday evening, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra's "Romantic Brahms" concert was an eclectic and enthralling experience. The unconventional set began with Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat Major, followed by Tan Dun's Water Concerto for water percussion and orchestra, and closed with Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73. Conducted by Edo de Waart, the concert included powerful special guest Yuri Yamashita.

Yamashita stole the night during the performance of Tan's risky and melancholy water music. Yamashita, a native of Japan and graduate of Juilliard, is well known for her work with Asphalt Orchestra and has played at the Metropolitan Opera. Tan, who won an Oscar a decade ago for the brilliant score to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, purposely broke with convention to bring his childhood past of experiencing water in China to a Western-tinged, percussion-heavy composition. The wide assortment of instruments included xylophone and violin, with some moments that any pop artist would gladly sample.

Yamashita appeared out of the audience while tapping a Waterphone, a new instrument created for its high pitch and hollow sound. Essentially a metal water bowl with metal wires struck by a violin bow, the Waterphone's sound is reminiscent of whale calls. Yamashita took the stage amid ambient sea-blue lights and slapped, splashed and flicked the water with her hands and numerous other devices—one of which looked like an empty peanut butter jar. She wore a glamorous yet unpretentious blue, glittery blouse to allow the audience to experience her rigid movement while she played.

She made unheard-of sounds with water; she became the water. The set would not have worked if she were not so good. Yamashita never crossed that fine line of the dreaded postmodern artistic cliché, and the performance was not comical. It sounded pleasant. The performance was one to experience, not over-think.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra received a standing ovation from a jubilant crowd that was clearly moved.