The opening event was a Wednesday evening concert titled “Masterworks” The first half began with Steven Schick performing Psappha and Bone Alphabet.
Schick’s performance of Psappha was to date the best playing of that piece I’ve ever heard. His clarity balance and control was artistry at its highest level. It proved the point made to me by a composer friend of mine who said, “Contemporary music is not bad, it’s just badly played”.
I was convinced by Schick’s performance that the key to understanding Psappha was an adherence to a steady tempo. Without this, relationships between The form and structures of Psappha would be incomprehensible and rendered meaningless.
Percussion Group Cincinnati
Then came a Percussion Group Cincinnati amalgamation of three Post-Cultural Revolution Chinese composers with the tongue and memory twisting title “From some of L AM- MOT(Qu Xiao-song), through WATER MUSIC (Tan Dun), to portions of DRAMA (Guo Wen-jing)”
Since hearing Chris Lamb’s premier of Tan Dun’s Water Music, I am still convinced the work’s greatest moment is the long, slow fall of water which ends the piece. It remains an enchanting sound particularly in a concert hall and may be in danger of becoming a cliché, something like the Mark Tree.
The work put together by Percussion Group Cincinnati contained an absolutely mesmerizing chime solo. I can think of few moments in my experience to compare with the timelessness and touch displayed in those notes. (I couldn’t see who played this chime part, but a friend at the concert told me he thought it was Alan Otte.)
Between the chimes and the water came music I’m used to hearing on the table of my licensed massage therapist. The only thing missing was the massage. I don’t know if this is typical of the Post-Cultural Revolution composers or the product of the Percussion Group Cincinnati’s pastiche. Worth noting however is the fact that at no time was I aware of this being “Percussion” music.
Susan Powell has created important percussion programs at Ohio State University. Though I had visited Ohio State on 2 occasions as a clinician, I had never heard Susan play. Therefore I was interested in hearing her presentation Xylophone +. Susan and her husband Joseph Krygier are exploring atypical xylophone repertoire.
The opening works were by William Cahn and Christopher Deane. The next work was Pattern Migration for tape and xylophone by Krygier and, for me the most successful work on the concert. Then followed a collaborative composition by Powell and Krygier. The programme ended with three virtuoso rag tunes by various past masters arranged as a medley and brilliantly played by Susan.
Based on what I heard I believe Susan’s idea about building a concert repertoire for xylophone not based on early 20th century dance music is worthy of expansion and I applaud her and Joseph for their efforts to date.
I could not miss the opportunity of hearing Turning Point, Prisoners of the Image Factory, Unseen Child, Cryin’ Time, Never in Word and Mudra. With the exception of Never in Word, I had played these works as a member of Nexus. Now I was to hear them again from the audience played by a hand picked group of virtuosi.
What I heard was a surprise. Becker’s music had always been interesting, exciting and challenging. All of those were present from out front, but the expression and mood was a new experience for me.
Bob’s music has a dark quality, something faintly disturbing. His music is modal and almost always in an odd meter, 5/4, but there is more.
And now, remembering feelings from my performances of these works, the word incomplete comes to mind. Somehow, his works never resolve in a traditional way- for example, as a five-seven chord announces the end of an eight bar phrase. This leaves a listener with a feeling not of what might have been, but what is to come. An intriguing and elusive quality.
Bob’s virtuosi made the same mistakes we always made in Nexus.
James Campbell, University of Kentucky Percussion Ensemble.
Jim’s ensembles are always prepared. This year he had chosen an early work by my teacher Warren Benson and had asked me to write a biography of Warren and a programme note for Warren’s Streams.
Streams is so quiet, Jim had phoned to asked my opinion about beginning his programme with the piece. I was doubtful the work would be heard in the hotel conference rooms reserved for these types of concerts unless some sensitive miking was used.
Ultimately, Jim decided to open with Blue Burn a rhythmically interesting work by Joseph Tompkins who wrote the work for the University of Kentucky Percussion Ensemble.
The performance of Streams was remarkable. Streams is a difficult work because it requires extensive use of techniques not usually required of percussionists. The ensemble gave a beautiful performance. I wished Warren could have heard them.
Streams is a piece for teaching. There are important lessons for students. It is a work in contradiction to most percussion ensemble compositions of the last 50 years. It’s difficult. It’s also very good.
There are two issues with Streams which I’ve never heard satisfactorily resolved. The percussionists are required to hum pitches and college percussionists cannot do this. Perhaps a small choir of voice majors would take care of the problem. The other concerns a slide whistle glissando that always sounds out of place. Maybe a synthesizer is the answer here.
Jim followed Streams with a work that opened with tape sounds that perfectly dovetailed with the mood of Streams. Thank you Jim and the ensemble.
N.B. During the last few years, the PASIC has been shortened by a day. This schedule is less tedious, more doable, compact, easy to absorb.