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Pius Cheung and a bowl of water.

The first thing you might have thought while listening to the Eugene Symphony’s performance of Tan Dun’s Water Concerto tonight at the Hult Center is, well, it’s a good thing Oregon has finally legalized marijuana.

On first hearing, the 1999 percussion concerto, which featured University of Oregon percussion professor Pius Cheung as soloist, has the energy of a long, repetitive but possibly interesting Grateful Dead jam. It’s fun, it’s dramatic, it’s noisy, and you’re never sure it gets anywhere. It was music to space out to.

The concerto was one of three contemporary Asian pieces on tonight’s program, which wrapped up with Stravinsky’s Firebird suite.

The Water Concerto was certainly the most dramatic, though I much more enjoyed the Stravinsky. Cheung, along with two other percussionists, hopped around the stage and played three large glass bowls of water — sometimes banging gongs half-submerged in the bowls, sometimes slapping or stirring the water by hand. (I plan to try this piece myself tomorrow morning in the bathtub.) He ended the piece with a lot of dramatic drum work, and that gong, which you can see hanging in the photo above.

The sounds were occasionally compelling, and Cheung and the other percussionists were fun to watch, but on the whole the piece felt far more improvised than composed.

The Stravinsky Firebird that wrapped up the evening was better — more generally comprehensible than the newer works, which is of course ironic considering Stravinsky’s rough reception when his music was first performed.

This was Rachev’s first performance since the announcement this week that he’ll be leaving the orchestra at the end of next season. He’ll wrap up his tenure here in May 2017 with the orchestra’s first-ever performance of Ricard Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony. Meanwhile, the symphony is gearing up its thorough process of finding a new music director, which will make next season even more intersting to hear.

 

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