Sunday, April 19, 2015

Percussion Concert: Director's Notes

The HSU Percussion Ensemble will feature an exciting and diverse program of material presenting the listener with contemporary percussion compositions and soundscapes, as well as traditional drumming styles based in the music of Africa and Cuba.

The featured work on the program is Toccata for Percussion, composed in 1942 by the Pan-American composer, Carlos Chavez. Chavez was born and died in Mexico City, and at the age of 29, he was named the director of Mexico’s National Conservatory and the director of Orchesta Sinfonia de Mexico.

 In Toccata, Chavez mixes Central American percussion instruments (claves, maracas, bongos) with standard European percussion instruments (timpani, snare drums, field drums) and Asian instruments (gongs) to create a true “mixed-world” instrumentation. Musically, he combines exciting rhythmic passages and sudden dynamic changes with slower passages that employ exotic scales and timbres. The result is a piece that is both fascinating and profound.

 The Percussion Ensemble will also be presenting one of John Cage’s most famous and innovative works from the 1940’s entitled, Second Construction. This highly experimental work calls for percussionists playing traditional Western percussion instruments combined with exotic instruments from around the world, including Balinese Gongs, Indian Oxen Bells, African Pod-Rattles, and Chinese Temple Bells.

One of the more unusual instruments employed is Cage’s infamous “water gong,” where the percussionist submerges a Chinese gong in water to alter and manipulate its pitch. Also featured in this work is Cage’s famous “Prepared-Piano,” an instrument created by taking a classical grand piano and adding nuts, bolts, washers, rubber, and other objects to the piano strings and sound-board. The effect creates an instrument that sounds more like an electronic synthesizer than an acoustic piano, and the effect is both stunning and surprising.

 Also on the program will be a beautiful soundscape by Cage’s contemporary, Lou Harrison, entitled Canticle # 3. It features the addition of flute and guitar to the percussion ensemble, and also features many “found objects” used as percussion instruments, as well as exotic percussion instruments such as Nigerian log drums, Indian elephant bells, sistrums, anvils, and a cajon.

Rounding out the Percussion Ensemble set will be a performance by the HSU Marimba Band of folkloric music from Guatamala, Mexico, and Africa.

 The HSU World Percussion Group will be presenting, "Takada", a traditional Ghanaian piece celebrating a woman's right to drum, and "Lucumî", an Afro-Cuban suite of rhythms and songs of Yoruba origin, originally from Nigeria. The show will end with a West African Drumming Ensemble, led by HSU student teacher, Joe Bishop. This group will be performing a suite of traditional Mandeng Drumming from West Africa using all indigenous instruments, featuring driving rhythms and a dynamic rhythmic interplay.

--Eugene Novotney

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