01 july 2019

Percussion Concerto - for the first time in Ukraine

The genre of instrumental concerto – one of the leading genres in classical music – has been widely known since the Baroque period. However, before the 20th century, composers used to create instrumental concertos mainly for string instruments, wind instruments and clavier with orchestra, neglecting the extremely rich timbre’s potential of percussion instruments, which were not considered self-sufficient for a long time.

However, since the 20th century, when revolutionary renewal of musical language began, as a consequence of the attention redistribution to the expressive means of music, timbre and rhythm replaced melody and harmony, becoming dominant. Since then composers have begun to discover the immense variety of possibilities of percussion instruments, giving them increasing importance in ensemble and orchestral works, and musicians eventually recognized their absolute self-sufficiency as solo instruments. The first steps in this direction were carried out by such well-known avant-garde composers as Edgar Varèse (the first work exclusively for percussion instruments "Ionization" was created in the 30s of the 20th century for 41 percussion instruments and 2 sirens), Karlheinz Stockhausen (Zyklus for a single performer on percussion, 1959), Iannis Xenakis (Persephassa for 6 percussionists, 1969, Psappha for percussion, 1975, Pleїades for 6 percussionists, 1978, Idme B, 1985, 1987-88 Rebonds, etc.) and many others. With the development of the percussion school and the emergence of outstanding performers repertoire for percussion instruments was being rapidly enriched with new compositions created for them specifically. Gradually the works for percussion have become not some rare experimental compositions but strengthened themselves in genres that were enshrined by centuries of long-standing composing and performing practice, particularly the genre of the instrumental concerto.

From the late 90s of the 20th century on a huge number of leading composers refers to the creation of concertos for percussion and orchestra, which have tremendous success. Among them: John Corigliano, James MacMillan, Michael Dougherty, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Kalevi Aho, Helen Grime, Jennifer Higdon, Alan Hovhaness, Ned Rorem, Christopher Rose, Steven Stucky, Chen Yi, Emmanuel Séjourné, Avner Dorman and many others.

At the Musical Bridges concert, Christoph Sietzen and New Era Orchestra led by Tatiana Kalinichenko presented one of the best examples of this genre to the Ukrainian public – the Percussion Concerto by Israeli composer Avner Dorman “Frozen in Time”.


Avner Dorman about his masterpiece:

"The title Frozen in Time refers to imaginary snapshots of the Earth’s geological development from prehistoric times to the present day. Although we cannot be sure what the Earth looked like millions of years ago, most scientists agree that the separate continents used to be one mega-continent (as most agree that mankind descended from one prehistoric womb). Each movement imagines the music of a large prehistoric continent at a certain point in time: 

I. Indoafrica: The piece opens with a grand gesture, like an avalanche, that is followed by a “time freeze.” The main theme of the first movement is based on South Indian rhythm cycles (Tālas) and scales. The range of the theme is gradually expanded like a spiral, as it would in classical Indian improvisation. The second theme is based on the inner rhythm of the Tāla, which is also found in some traditions of West-African music. As the solo percussionist starts playing the theme on the Marimba and the Cencerros (a keyboard of cowbells), it becomes more similar to Gamelan music of Southeast Asia. The soloist then returns to the drum-set and takes the music back to it African origins building the movement up to an ecstatic culmination. At this point, the opening avalanche returns as a burst of emotions rather than a natural phenomenon. After a short cadenza, the movement wraps up with a fugue that recaps the themes of the opening section. 

II. Eurasia: The second movement is an exploration of the darker sides of the mega-continent of Eurasia where emotions run deep but are kept quiet (the movement mainly deals with the traditions of central Europe and central and eastern Asia). The opening bass drum rhythm (which is borrowed from the Siciliana) and the long high notes in the strings separate this movement from the outer ones in terms of geography and climate. Also, the fact that the soloist only uses metal instruments in this movement makes it colder and more northern in character. The melodic materials of this movement are inspired by Mozart’s Sicilianas which appear in some of his most intimate and moving movements (Piano Concerto K.488, Sonata K.280, Rondo K.511 and the aria “Ach, ich Fühl’s”). One can hear that war is brewing under the surface throughout the movement although it only erupts briefly in the form of central Asian bells and modes that invade the introspective mood of the Siciliana. The movement ends with a long meditation on the opening theme – with many moments frozen in time. 

III. The Americas: The final movement is a snapshot of the present (The Americas are, in fact, still one continent). Moreover, the mixture of cultures is a staple of modern America. The final movement is constructed as a rondo. The refrain represents mainstream American styles (Broadway at first, American Symphonic style in its second repeat, Mellow Jazz in the third, and Grunge Music - Seattle Style Rock - in its final repeat). The episodic sections explore other sounds of the Americas: the Tango, AfroCuban Jazz, Swing, and Minimalism. As American music is by nature inclusive, the movement includes a recapitulation of African, European and Asian music, tying the piece together." 

Composer's notes from the web-cite "Music Sales Classical": http://www.musicsalesclassical.com/composer/work/36023