The independent percussion ensemble is an early 20th century musical phenomenon that was stimulated by the exploratory compositions of Edgard Varèse, Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, Harry Partch, and, especially, John Cage. Composers such as Toru Takemitsu, Steve Reich, Michael Colgrass and Charles Wuorinen latched on to the new sonic possibilities that the percussion ensemble suggested and wrote important pieces. There was also an explosion in the growth of percussion ensembles on both the college campus and in the professional music world.

Frank Epstein, former Boston Symphony Orchestra percussionist, Chair of Brass and Percussion at NEC, and Director of the NEC Percussion Ensemble, has long been an ardent champion of new music. With the NEC Percussion Ensemble, he has commissioned and given first performances of many new works, helping building a 21st century repertory for that instrumental grouping. Percussion Ensemble concerts, then, are a rich and varied mix of styles, colors, and textures.

Tonight's concert, which will also be performed at the Museum of Fine Arts on November 14, once again features a world premiere for this most contemporary of instrumental ensembles:

"China's Louis Armstrong," Yazhi Guo, outstanding performer on the suona (Chinese shawm or oboe), solos in Joan Huang (in photo above) premiere.

The program:

Huang: Bird Twitters from Altadena for suona and six percussion players—World Premiere
Yazhi Guo, suona soloist

Lou Harrison: Violin Concerto with Percussion Orchestra
with Nicholas Kitchen on violin

Nobojša Živković:Trio per Uno
I. Meccanico
Michael Daley, Bryce Leafman, David Luidens-percussion

Toshi Ichiyanagi:The Source for solo marimba (1989)
Tsz-Ho Samuel Chan, marimba

David Mancini:Suite for Solo Drum Set and Percussion Ensemble
Carl Pillot, drum set

John Beck:Concerto for Drum Set and Percussion Ensemble
Carl Pillot, drum set

The composer has written the following note about Bird Twitters from Altadena:

Last spring, when Frank Epstein sent me a couple of YouTube Links about Yazhi Guo playing suona, I was amazed by his virtuosity and artistry. 'Wow,' I said to myself, 'this guy is a real excitement.' I was sitting in our garden in Altadena, California, with multiple wind chimes dangling and singing, birds chirping, Gingie (our golden retriever) panting by my side, ...the divine sound of the natural world is an elixir to me. I thought about an old Chinese suona piece entitled A Hundred Birds Paying Respect to the Phoenix, which is a beautiful piece about birds. I immediately e-mailed to Frank to ask if I might write a piece for Yazhi Guo and Frank’s New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble. Frank replied with an enthusiastic okay.

Birds Twitters from Altadena is about birds in Altadena and in Mother Nature. Generally, the bird calls are represented by the solo suona and various wind instruments, while the percussion ensemble depicts the natural environment.

Mourning Dove: The piece begins with the serene sound of glass, bamboo and metal wind chimes, then the mourning dove penetrates with its characteristic owllike tones of cadenza. Nipple gong, bird whistle, steel pan, harmonica, flexatone, flower pots are used to create a tranquil atmosphere.

Anna’s Hummingbird: I try to create a lively scene by using the suona’s flutter sound and the interplay among various percussion instruments.

Great Horned Owl: This movement was inspired by the experience of hiking with our dog Gingie at the Eaton Canyon near our home. Eaton Canyon attracts a diversity of birds through the year. Creeks trickling, waterfalls cascading, birds singing, I’ve adopted the tune of Down in the Valley on various “bell” instruments, reverberating against each other.

Acorn Woodpecker: Suona blows a naive melody over a chatter of an ensemble made up a hubbub of wood since it’s a “wood pecking”.

American Crow: The bass suona sings a melancholy Old Folks Blues against the haunting mysterious background.

Yellow-billed Magpie: I try to present a vivacious American country folk music scene.

Northern Mockingbird: The last movement is the summary of the previous six movements. All the birds are reunited to celebrate the eternity of Mother Nature.

This is first time of I have incorporated American folk songs in my music. Suona is a Chinese traditional instrument reminiscent of my roots. My attempt is to let this 'ethnic' instrument be harmonious with the universal. Birds Twitters From Altadena is dedicated to my dear husband Bill Kraft on the occasion of his 90th birthday."

—Joan Huang, August 26, 2013

Joan Huang Biography

Composer Joan Huang grew up and received her early music education with her parents in Shanghai, China. During her teenager years, unfortunately, she could not escape the miserable experiences of the disastrous Cultural Revolution. Under the political pressure, she was sent to a farm to accept "re-education" which meant doing heavy manual labour for three years. During her time on the farm, she had the opportunity to learn the authentic Chinese traditional music from local farmers.

After the Cultural Revolution, Huang was one of the few applicants (17 out of 17,000) to be accepted at the time of the reopening of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music following the tumultuous Cultural Revolution that shackled ten precious years of talented musicians.  She obtained both BA and MA degrees from the Conservatory.

In 1986 she came to the United States to continue her education at the University of California at Los Angeles and studied with Elaine Barkin, William Kraft and Roger Bourland. She became very interested in creating a style of fusion of Chinese traditional musical language with Western contemporary compositional techniques. She has received several awards, including two from Phi Beta Kappa for international students, one Tanglewood Music Festival fellowship and two Aspen Music Festival Scholarships. In 1991, she received her Ph.D. from UCLA.

As a composer, Huang has had commissions and performances from outstanding organizations and performers, such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, the Pacific Symphony, the Boston Music Viva, Boston Artists Ensemble, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Southwest Chamber Music, Marimolin, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, Ying Quartet, and Piano Spheres, San Francisco Bridge Chamber Virtuosi, etc. Her The Legend of Chang-e won the first prize of 1994 Marimolin's International Composition Contest. Her mostly recent multi-media work Shanghai Trilogy was premiered in Shanghai, China during the 2010 Shanghai International Expo; Along the River During the Qingming Festival (for Chinese Traditional Ensemble and Western Ensemble, co-commission by Melody of China and Earplay) in San Francisco for the 2012 San Francisco International Festival and Lunar Jamboree (for orchestra, commissioned by Harvard-Westlake Orchestra) in Los Angles in 2013.

Date: November 24, 2013 - 8:00:PM
Price: Free
Location: NEC’s Jordan Hall

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