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She's Not All Wet 

by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & e've all splashed in the bathtub and stomped on puddles. When Maria Flurry performs Tan Dun's Water Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra, she's appealing to our inner kids -- the ones screaming for some aquatic surprises.





Twice this weekend with the Spokane Symphony at the Fox, Flurry will perform the Water Concerto, a work that has her striking bowls and gongs that are partially (or entirely) submerged in water, even slapping the water itself. She says Tan's concerto is composed of "sounds that you make with water, that sound like water, or that remind people of water."





Accompanied by assistant percussionists Paul Raymond and Rick Westrick -- and working with two large tubs -- Flurry will cup water and let it flow through her fingers, plunge bowls underwater, strike gongs and bells both above and below the water line. There's "an acrylic tube that gets played in the water," she says, and "a gong that gets dipped in the water, which changes its pitch and creates an entirely new sound." And there's "a 'water phone' that's truly unique -- essentially, it's two metal mixing bowls welded together, with a hole for a tube, and I bow it or tap it, scrape it. It makes an eerie sound."





Tan Dun is best known for his Grammy-winning soundtrack for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, though with autumn, snow, water and paper showing up in his composition titles, he's in pursuit of natural sounds. Flurry (who has performed the Water Concerto with orchestras in Michigan and Arizona) remarks on his unconventional score: "Some passages, like the second movement, are precisely notated down to 32nd notes," she says. "But in other parts, there'll be sort of a line that goes up and down on the page. Or he'll put X's on different lines -- so an X on the third line tells me which of the wooden bowls to hit."





Kids love the Water Concerto -- Flurry reports how one passage caused a boy to exclaim, "Wow! That sounded like a whale!" -- which is why Flurry will deliver a pre-concert presentation at 2 pm on Saturday at CenterStage (across First Avenue from the Fox), giving children some hands-on experience with her unconventional percussion instruments.





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & ckart Preu will open this weekend's concerts by conducting the Symphony musicians in "The White Peacock," a tone poem written 90 years ago by American composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes. This six-minute piece, however, isn't your typical programmatic tone poem that relates a distinct story. Instead, Preu says, Griffes "tells us about a mood -- it's just about impressions that you may have. It's like a little miniature painting, not an elaborate tale."





Griffes had a thing for peacocks -- especially after he had spotted a white one at the Berlin zoo -- and commentary on "The White Peacock" typically makes much of "the arpeggiated runs ... that represent the male bird spreading his tail." But Preu is dismissive about that. "I think all that's in the harp and the celesta," he says. "The program annotators have to make a living, I guess. But [Griffes] just hopes you'll get swept away by his melodies -- nothing more and nothing less."





In somewhat similar fashion, the liner notes on recordings of that old warhorse, the Brahms Fourth, often insist on its tragic nature. But Preu is having none of that. "I tried to see the tragedy in the last movement," he says. "And it's just not there. It's a very hopeful ending."





And indeed the fourth and final movement of Johannes Brahms' fourth and final symphony is cast in the form of a chaconne -- a term for a musical phrase repeated over a bass line. For a German composer writing in 1885, it amounts to a kind of "look what I can do within formal constraints" episode.





"It's a reference to the Old Masters, and it's really truly amazing what he does with it," Preu says. "He brings the same tune thirty-some times, and it's so you don't even notice it. And even if you are aware of it, it's done so masterfully that it's clear that that's not the point. It's like with a fugue -- the fugue itself is not the point."





For Brahms, for Preu, for the really good musicians, the point isn't the music's form -- it's the emotions generated by that music. There's a reason the good ones are always trying to break the


rules.





The Spokane Symphony Orchestra will play music of Griffes, Tan and Brahms on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 8 pm and on Sunday, Jan. 13, at 3 pm at the Fox. Tickets: $19-$41. Visit www.spokanesymphony.org or call 624-1200 or 325-SEAT.





CHAMBER SOIREES





The featured work in next week's two Chamber Soir & eacute;es at the Davenport Hotel is Brahms' first string quartet, performed by SSO principal string players Mateusz Wolski, Jason Bell, Nick Carper and John Marshall.





For Wolski, when a chamber music performance is going well, "there's electricity in the air -- something that transcends us all in that small space." In the ornate confines of the Marie Antoinette Ballroom, he says with a smile, "the electricity doesn't have to travel that far."





Brahms' first quartet exemplifies how "all the great composers are about, within limits, breaking the rules -- that's how greatness is created." In this work, Wolski says, it's as if Brahms asked, "'How about a C major tonality thrown into a C minor work, just to make it end happy?' But it doesn't. It's very proper, but it uses incredibly charged themes to force you out of your properness." In chamber concerts, Wolski says, "You often see people trying to act proper -- but when you get them to burst out laughing or crying, those are the moments that I find exciting."





In the 1860s, what Brahms was trying to burst out of were the constraints of tradition. "Brahms was very intimidated by Beethoven, and he kept putting pressure on himself," Wolski says. "He discarded 20 quartets -- but he allowed three to live."





The Chamber Soirees give musicians a chance to play the chamber pieces they love most, and Wolski lists the C minor quartet as one of his favorites. All four movements develop thematic material found in the opening passages, as Wolski notes: "You hear the subjects over and over, but there is no empty, bridge-like material. Everything is always being transformed."





And yet Brahms remains accessible: "If you have never heard a classical piece in your life, you will still be falling continuously in love" with Brahms' first string quartet, says Wolski.





Five members of the Symphony's horn section will open the concert with the second of the four brass quintets written by Russian composer Victor Ewald (1860-1935). Then, before intermission, Dan Cotter and Luke Bakken will perform the Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon of Francois Poulenc (1899-1963).





-- Michael Bowen





Musicians of the Spokane Symphony Orchestra will perform in Chamber Soir & eacute;es on Tuesday-Wednesday, Jan. 15-16, at 7:30 pm in the Marie Antoinette Ballroom of the Davenport Hotel, Sprague and Post Street. Tickets: $18, gallery seating; $42, table seating (including wine and hors d'oeuvres). Visit www.spokanesymphony.org or call 624-1200 or 325-SEAT.

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