In 2013 the peripatetic Tan Dun traveled to the Thomaskirche in Leipzig to conduct his Water Passion in the very space in which J.S. Bach had introduced the St. Matthew Passion nearly three centuries ago (most likely in 1727). The gesture underlined the kind of cross-cultural counterpoint that lies at the heart of the Chinese composer’s oratorio.
The full title reads Water Passion after St. Matthew, yet Tan also models his work on his reading of Bach’s monumental precedent. It might even be titled Water Passion after St. Matthew after Bach — the second “after” being taken in its double sense of “according to” and “postdating” (for a contemporary world).