How often does one hear a percussion ensemble in concert? Not very often. The NEC Percussion Ensemble, directed by Frank Epstein, first percussionist of the Boston Symphony, gave a fine demonstration of rich possibilities on Sunday night, November 16.
Sunday’s program led off with the slow movement of Saint-Saëns’s Third (“Organ”) Symphony – abbreviated by about two-thirds – played on five marimbas, alto, tenor and bass, by eight players. All that warbling tremolo aside, the sound achieved some fine depth,… My own contribution was of the third piece from Debussy’s En blanc et noir for two pianos, which I arranged for six mallet instruments – glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, bass marimba, and tubular bells. I was delighted with the performance but after hearing it would want to make some changes, which shows at least how this composer has more to learn about percussion. A new piece by Joan Huang followed, Orphan San Mao, composed last year for solo violin with four percussionists variously playing mallet instruments and drums, augmented by toys and sound effects. A palette of unorthodox objects is employed, such as chopsticks, porcelain plates, steel bowls, bottles, automobile horns and police whistle.” Fred Lerdahl’s The First Voices, a recent commission, was the heavyweight piece on the program, one in which different kinds of drums — bongos, conga drums, tenor drums, tomtoms, tambourines, bass drums — were most prominently featured. [Click on title for full review]
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