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, a 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.
The Percussion Ensemble is composed of Chan Tsz Ho, Emily Feeney, Andrew Grossman, Stephen Kehner, Bryce Leafman, Robert O’Brien, Andrés Pichardo-Rosenthal, Miles Salerni, Sean Van Winkle.
Tonight's concert features Leroy Osmon's Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Percussion, which is scored for solo saxophone, cello, and eight percussionists. Kenneth Radnofsky will be the saxophonist, Marza Merophi Wilks is the cellist. Also on the program:
Pius Cheung Etude in E Minor for Solo Marimba
Chan Tsz Ho, marimba
John Cage Third Construction (1941)
James Romig The Frame Problem (2003)
Chan Tsz Ho
Irwin Bazelon Propulsions, Concerto for Percussion (1974)
Chan Tsz Ho
Sean Van Winkle
Composer John Cage (1912–1992) paid attention to the 99% of sound that was not previously called "music." This even led him to explore what was previously thought of as "silence." Because he challenged existing notions of music in such a fundamental way, his ideas still provoke and inspire.
Cage visited New England Conservatory for a festival of his music in 1991. In 2012, we celebrate his centennial with performances by NEC's musicians here and elsewhere in Boston.
The work performed tonight—Third Construction—can be heard as a sort of rhythmic canon, since the four players follow the same rhythmic pattern, but in an overlapping rotation. A rich panoply of exotic percussion instruments is in play, from rattles to conch shell.