last night i checked out the oregon symphony’s percussion spectacular show, and one thing’s for sure: i won’t be accusing their marketing team of false advertising. timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, bells, bongos, castanets, cherleston, chocolo, claves, cow bells, crotales, guiro, snare drum, vibraphone, marimba, wood block, tambourine, maracas, whip (kinky!), temple blocks, tam-tam, tomtoms, glockenspiel, gourd, xylophone, celesta, chimes, rute, temple blocks, the elusive peking opera gong… i don’t know what half of this shit is, but it certainly was spectacular. being immersed in the kinetic energy of these instruments seemed to have affected the entire band, and as proof i offer you a description of the first five minutes of the concert: the house lights went down, peter frajola introduced concertmaster iwasaki as a great golfer, a beaming jun returned the compliment by patting peter on the head, the band galloped through Ludwig’s turkish march, it was announced the program order would be switched, chief percussionist deponte acted up in class, and maestro carlos actually uttered the phrase play the cucumber! for those of you who aren’t regular symphony-goers, let me assure you this is indeed an atypical start to a classical show.
if you happen to be reading this post expecting a comprehensive review of last night’s concert, it is my pleasure to now direct you to the excellent writing of james bash. don’t get me wrong, the carmen ballet music and the gershwin overture were both hot, but let’s not kid ourselves… the evening revolved around jennifer higdon’s percussion concerto performed by colin currie and the band. for good reason. every style of percussion is embraced within this 5-year-old composition, from appalachian washboard to japanese taiko to african drumming to western military to art blakey and everything in between. the inclusiveness of this music extends to how it’s played out… an unequivocal contemporary work which doesn’t shy away from the traditional concerto layout created hundreds of years ago – 3 predictable fast-slow-fast musical chapters that make room for the soloist to wail (i.e. “brilliantly execute a complicated cadenza”). the concerto emerges like a bullet train from a marimba tunnel, meanders through a dreamy chinese countryside, and reaches climax in the final pulsating minutes of triumph. and listening to it dozens of times at home did not dull me to the sheer energetic joy of the real deal. although it was hard to peel one’s eyes and ears away from colin as soloist, the band did not just serve as fancy auditory wallpaper; seems like every musician got to grab the momentary spotlight, especially the orchestra’s own percussionists who often volleyed unexpected rhythms back and forth with mr. currie. long story short, it was a primal 23-minute affirmation of life using the very first instruments we homo sapiens decided to create.
hey, speaking of life: shout out to dan, who underwent a very surreal open-heart surgery last week. the human heart is the ultimate rhythm section, and i am very relieved that my friend’s newly refurbished instrument is already keeping time quite nicely. to quote that timeless songstress tiffany quoting tommy james & the shondells: the beating of our hearts is the only sound. speedy healing dan!