OU Percussion Ensembles Concert: Skidmore, Mackey, Souza, & more...

About 15 years ago, I vividly remember hearing the OU Percussion Orchestra perform at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Atlanta, GA. I was a sophomore in college at UNC-Greensboro and the percussion ensembles from both schools had been selected to perform showcase concerts at the conference. It was my first PASIC and I was so young and naive, but had a blast being 19 & exploring the Atlanta Underground. Nearly 10 years later, the OUPO commissioned 3 monumental new works, including Joseph Blaha’s “The Night Watch,” Raymond Helbles’s “Concertare,” and Eric Ewazen’s ever-popular “Palace of Nine Perfections.” Fantastic.

The point here is that the OU Percussion Orchestra has been on my radar for a long time as pioneers in creating the “percussion orchestra” sound – 10 to 14 players, 4-5 marimbas, 2 vibraphones, glockenspiel(s), crotales, chimes, xylophone(s), and a whole assortment of battery and accessory percussion. In the symphony orchestra, we percussionists spend so much of our time looking over the shoulders of the violin section envious of all the melodic passages filling their pages. Sure, we get to color all the sections of the orchestra, but rarely do we get to come to the forefront unless in purely rhythmic ways.

I feel extremely fortunate that I now have the opportunity to be at the helm of the OUPO, if only for one semester. Before moving out here, I was provided with a PDF file filled with about 15 years of Percussion Orchestra/Ensemble concert programs so I could get a sense of all the pieces that had been performed here. I used this to purposely choose literature for our concert that would be new to all of the students. And I succeeded – well, all except one student who had played one of the pieces while in high school. That’s the cool thing about these large pieces... they’ve been trickling down into high schools. I also wanted to pick pieces by some composers whose work I have really been admiring for the past few years. So, here’s the program for the November 10th OU Percussion Orchestra & Ensemble Concert:

University of Oklahoma Percussion Ensemble & Percussion Orchestra
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
8:00 p.m.
Sharp Hall, Catlett Music Center, OU

Live Webcast at 8:00 p.m. CST (9pm EST) via http://music.ou.edu

Adaptation, Mvt. I by Nathan Daughtrey
Adaptation
is the reworking of the very first piece I ever wrote, Episodes for Solo Piano. The percussion ensemble version won third prize in the 2005 Percussive Arts Society Composition Contest. When one goes through any life changes, one must experience several stages of adaptation. The first and longest movement, Improvisation, represents the stage in which you are caught off-guard and you are forced to fly by the seat of your pants. It utilizes a rather bluesy pitch set giving way to the improvisatory nature of the work.

Aboriginal Dreams by Roland Barrett
Aboriginal Dreams
was commissioned by the Mt. Lebanon High School Percussion Ensemble in Pittsburgh, PA to celebrate their 25th anniversary and received its premiere in the spring of 2009. Barrett is on the music theory and composition faculty at OU, so the percussion ensemble has had the opportunity to have him come in and work with them on his piece.

Aria by David J. Long (adapted by Andrew Dancy)
Aria
is the first movement from a solo marimba piece by David Long called “Three Scenes for Solo Marimba.” Each of the four voice assigned to the four mallets in the solo voices have been redistributed and scored for 4 marimbas and 2 vibraphones by Andrew Dancy, thus imagining the full dramatic potential of this beautiful work.

Cores Norte/Sul by Ricardo Souza
This will be the world premiere performance of Cores Norte/Sul, which Ricardo was commissioned to write by the OU Percussion Press for the OUPO. He has been rehearsing the piece and will conduct it on the concert. Ricardo earned his doctorate from OU a few years ago and now teaches as a percussion adjunct here. Like Whispers, this piece is full of fascinating colors, effects, and excitement.

Mass by John Mackey
Written in 2004, this percussion sextet was commissioned by The Julliard School for the Julliard Dance Division and the Julliard Percussion Ensemble. Like many of Mackey’s works, Mass grooves... hard. After an expansive ethereal introduction, with rolled marimbas and bowed vibraphone, the rhythms become busier and eventually transition into a groovy ostinato in the marimbas and gradually add the battery percussion. Listen to the electronically-generated recording of Mass on John’s website, then check out our webcast on the night of our concert for the live version.

Whispers by David Skidmore
Whispers
won first prize in the 2005 Percussive Arts Society Composition Contest (consequently the same year that my pieces Limerick Daydreams and Adaptation won 2nd and 3rd place, respectively). The colors that David used in thus piece are masterful, using repeated notes in the marimbas to enhance sustained tones on the vibraphones, taped pennies to vibraphone bars for a buzzing sound, seamless gradual shifts from wooden sounds to metallic sounds followed by a shocking explosion of drums, and a nice surprise ending.

Please join us on November 10th at 8:00 p.m. CST for the live audio webcast of the concert. You will not be disappointed!