Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Colin Currie, percussion, and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

Scottish solo percussionist Colin Currie plays with the ESO this Friday and Saturday which includes the ESO premiere of "Rough Music". Friday is the "late night percussion" concert with Ed Mann, guest percussionist, and the program notes are so interesting for this show that I thought I would share them with you ... for tickets and more information click here.

Symphonies of Hidden Fire (2003 ESO commission): 1st movement “Fury”
Allan Gordon Bell (b. Calgary, 1953)

Allan Gordon Bell received a Master of Music degree from the University of Alberta, following studies with Violet Archer, Malcolm Forsyth, and Manus Sasonkin. He is currently professor of music at the University of Calgary. Symphonies of Hidden Fire was commissioned by the ESO in 2003, and tonight we will hear the first movement of the three-movement work. Here is how Mr. Bell describes it: “The piece is a ‘sounding together’ of my musical responses to four poems. The first, an excerpt from the work of the 19th-century Persian poet Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, provides the piece with its title and the short phrase that opens each movement. The first movement is fast and savage. With is brass and percussion themes, the movement is a relentless outburst. It is a response to an excerpt from Federico García Lorca’s The Song of the Rider: In the black moon a shriek – and the long horn of the bonfire”

G-Spot Tornado (arr. Askin)
Frank Zappa (b. Baltimore, MD, 1940 / d. Hollywood Hills, CA, 1993)

The title “G-Spot Tornado” was just the kind of thing Frank Zappa loved. An outspoken critic of the Parents’ Music Resource Council (the mid-80s American organization co-founded by Tipper Gore, wife of future Vice President Al Gore, which tried to clamp down on perceived obscenity and other “objectionable” material on recordings), Zappa earned a parents’ advisory sticker for this 1986 album Jazz From Hell all because of this song title. The ironic thing, of course, is that the song itself is purely instrumental – there are no lyrics to object to, only a song title.

Beyond that, Jazz From Hell was experimental even by Zappa standards. Abandoning the company of other musicians, Zappa used a Synclavier music system to create the solo recording. G-Spot Tornado, as he conceived it, wouldn’t be possible for humans to play anyway. He was happy to be proven wrong, when he and Ensemble Modern performed it as part of the Yellow Shark tour and subsequent recording (1993). It was the last album released prior to Franz Zappa`s death.

The ESO is pleased to present Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow – A Tribute to Frank Zappa, featuring local musicians and musicians who played with Frank Zappa. Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 7:30 pm. Tickets on sale now at the Winspear Centre Box Office and online

Matthias Schmitt

The percussionist and composer Matthias Schmidt wrote Ghanaia after a trip to the country Ghana in North Africa. He was very taken with the rhythmic intensity and hypnotic complexity of the marimba music he heard there. In this piece he uses melodies and counterpoint used in Ghanaian music and fuses them with more Western European ideas with very interesting results.

Nagoya Marimbas
Steve Reich

Steve Reich's Nagoya Marimbas was written in 1994, in honour of the opening of the Shirakawa Hall in Nagoya. Having established the harmonic intentions of the work and its rhythmic language, the two marimba players embark on a “close canon” to the end of the piece; the second player plays precisely the same music as the first player half a beat behind him. The result is a bewildering collage of sound that immediately intrigues the ear. In this version the first marimba part is provided by a backing CD.

Fire over Water (from I Ching)
Per Nørgård

This final movement from the quartet of pieces I Ching is an often dramatic and bewildering tour de force, written largely for 9 drums and very specific metal sounds. This angry scurrying is interrupted only by the charming (by contrast) central section on the vibraphone. Percussion is very important for this composer and he has written extensively for the instruments. Obvious also are his inspirations from ethnic, popular and world music, as well as his rhythmic inspiration from the human body's rhythm, which involves various rhythmic "phasings" (heartbeat, breathing, eye-blinking, etc). These layers of rhythms are united in this work, which was a visionary addition to the repertoire.

6 Miniatures for Marimba: selections
Matthias Schmitt

6 Miniatures for Marimba uses a very pianistic approach to the marimba to form a colourful set of pieces. Structurally, the outer movements share much material, as do movements two and three. Movement four is a very serene moment, with an interesting combination of fast but very quiet music while the fifth movement is a simple chorale, in anticipation of the extrovert finale.

Dave Maric

Trilogy was commissioned in 2000 by percussionist Colin Currie for a series of solo recitals planned for December 2000 and January/February 2001 at venues in Glasgow, Tokyo, New York and Chicago. Currie initially wanted a short piece that brought the styles and sounds of modern electronic dance music into the world of contemporary classical percussion through the use of a pre-recorded backing CD. A huge library of percussion samples was then created from Currie's own large selection of instruments. But it became clear rather quickly that the super imposition of these sounds, together with a live percussion part, could produce an interesting texture that would inspire a slightly more ambitious work than that which had originally been requested.

The result: a three movement work which covers a great deal of stylistic ground (referring to the music of five continents) and explores many different approaches to structure (ranging from the freely improvised to the mathematically binding). The live percussion part is scored for marimba, vibraphone, crotales, and a large array of untuned percussion.

Rough Music – Concerto for Percussion
H.K. Gruber (b. Vienna, 1943)

First performance: October 30, 1983 in Vienna
This is the ESO premiere of the piece

Program note by the composer

Early in the 1970s my colleague Gerald Fromme, who is principal solo timpanist in the Austrian Radio Symphony Orchestra (ORF) suggested I write a concerto for him. The request fascinated me, but raised fundamental questions to which I had no immediate answer. One of the aspects of the dissolution of the 'tonal' system was the emancipation of rhythm and the consequent liberation of the percussion from its largely subordinate or even menial tasks. While on the one hand I welcomed this liberation, on the other I have always found that tonality is for me an indispensable means of expression.

Since my soloist would, by definition, have to have a decisive role in the development of themes, I was drawn to Alban Berg's idea of Hauptrhyhmus (“Leading rhythm”). The soloist would take command by a series of signals, based on rhythmic ideas and embracing metrical and formal structures, while the orchestra would form a kind of echo-chamber for developing the percussionist's material in intervallic and harmonic terms. But how was the interaction of soloist and orchestra to be defined, if not in terms of the concerto ideals of the past? The question continued to puzzle me for several years.

In 1981 the Austrian Radio, without knowing of our discussions, commissioned me to write a concerto for Fromme. Before I could start on it I had to write an orchestral piece, to which, on its completion, I gave the title Charivari. Curious about the origins of a word generally associated with the Parisian magazine in which Doré, Daumier and others satirized the Second Empire, I turned to the dictionaries and was astonished to discover that the medieval ritual to which it referred involved primitive forms of percussion. As a means of venting their disapproval on individuals who stepped out of line (generally out of the marital line) villagers would “serenade” the hapless sinner at midnight by banging pan lids, crashing tin trays, rattling bottles and even pulling the tails of cats which protruded from specially constructed boxes. The French exported Charivari to Canada and Louisiana, where it became known as Shivaree; the Basques knew it as Toberac (like Charivari an onomatopoeic word) and the English as “Rough Music” or “Skimmity riding”; while the Germans - who shared the French taste for tormenting cats - called it Katzenmusik.

What this deep-rooted custom seemed to offer was not an excuse for folkloric exploration, but a dramatic and formal basis for the concerto as concerto. The heterogeneous sound elements - tuned and untuned, aggressive and moderating - that are marshaled together by the demagogic “drummer” represent in the first place a concentration of forces which gradually find their allies and fellow-travelers in the orchestra.

The first movement, Toberac, is the simplest of the three, structurally, expressively, and instrumentally. The solo part begins with the Hauptrhythmus and is restricted to two melody instruments – xylophone and marimba.

In the second movement, Shivaree, the untuned percussion takes over, and is doubled by the orchestra, whose harmonic structures eventually give rise to the vibraphone's lyrical answer. Although there are no specifically American allusions in this movement just as there are no Basque ones in its predecessor the violence of its developments may serve as a reminder that the “innocent” revelry of Shivaree was not without relevance to the latter-day processions of the Ku Klux Klan.

While the first two movements may be heard as abstract manoeuvres, the third is concrete and specific. The subtitle “for Henri Sauguet, at the tomb of Mister the Poor Man” refers not only to the doyen of French composers - who was born in Bordeaux in 1901 - and to his mentor, Erik Satie, but to an aesthetic implicitly opposed to all forms of violence, whether physical or spiritual. From the “white” harmonies of the opening music there gradually emerges a ghostly outline of Satie's waltz-song Je te veux. Its untroubled mood and its purely formal implications govern the ensuing music and eventually allow for a second allusion - this time, to the waltz from Sauguet's ballet Les Forains. Rejoinders from the orchestra and from the soloist's arsenal become ever louder and more brutal until finally the two melodies are silenced ... and yet the echoes from them linger on, in the whiteness of their peaceable harmony.

Program notes © by D.T. Baker except as noted, with generous assistance from Opus 3 Artists

No comments:

Post a Comment