Tonight's livestream can be found here:
Program notes, composer, and soloist information can be found below.
Malachite Glass—Nigel Westlake
Malachite Glass is a twelve-minute work for percussion quartet and amplified bass clarinet. The work was commissioned in 1990 by the Australian percussion group, Synergy Percussion. Nigel Westlake, an accomplished clarinetist with an affinity for the bass clarinet and a close relationship with the members of Synergy Percussion, composed a fascinating and unique work for the unusual chamber ensemble. Westlake said of the piece:
Malachite Glass further explores ideas found in some of my previous works for Synergy such as Omphalo Centric Lecture. When writing for marimba I always refer to its ancient counterpart, the African balofon, the music of which is frequently based on repeated rhythmic ostinati. Throughout Malachite Glass, two of the percussionists play marimbas. The other two play a selection of traditional and modern percussion instruments and provide the driving motor of the piece. The bass clarinet is treated as an equal rather than as a soloist, & burbles & shakes its way throughout, supporting the rhythmic drive & providing melodic fragments.
In preparation for tonight’s performance, the percussion ensemble visited the Edward M. Ryan Geology Museum at Adams State University to study specimens of the green/teal glass-like mineral that served as inspiration to the composer and is the title of the work.
Tonight’s bass clarinet soloist, Alyssa Powell served as instructor of single reeds at Adams State University for three years and will be moving to Columbus, OH this fall to begin doctoral studies at The Ohio State University.
Ashen Skies—Caleb Pickering
Composer and percussionist Caleb Pickering wrote Ashen Skies for the Adams State University Percussion Ensemble in the summer of 2016. Caleb and I studied at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas together and his music, energy, and performance ability always inspired me. Pickering visited Adams State University this spring and performed a solo recital, taught private lessons, and worked with tonight’s performers.
The piece requires intense dexterity for the musicians, including a single performer plucking a guitar with his right hand while playing three note chords with mallets on tuned metal conduit piping with his left hand. The piece is in ABA form, utilizes rhythms in hocket, and requires the three musicians to interact subtly to create a sonic soundscape of both definite and indefinite pitched instruments.
To learn more about Caleb Pickering and his compositions, visit his website here.
Uneven Souls—Nebojsa Zivkovic
I had the great pleasure of performing this work with the composer, Nebojsa Zivkovic at the Adelaide Conservatorium at the University of Adelaide in South Australia in 2014. Zivkovic’s Uneven Souls is virtuosic for the marimba soloist and ensemble combined and alternate between haunting melodies and maniacal rhythms. When junior percussion major Dryden Hill expressed interest in performing this work, we agreed he would not only learn the marimba part, but would coach the ensemble and sing the chant melodies in preparation for tonight’s performance. While I provided insight into my experience working and performing with the composer, tonight’s musicians made this work their own.
Xochiquetzal—Robert Xavier Rodriguez
In the summer of 2016, Dallas-based violinist Chloé Trevor and I discussed the possibility of collaborating on a unique work for violin and percussion. We’ve performed together with the Music in the Mountains Festival Orchestra in Durango, CO for several summers but have never performed together outside of the orchestral setting. We agreed to undertake the challenge of putting together the monumental Xochiquetzal for violin soloist and percussion sextet and rehearsed as an ensemble for the past three days. This chamber concerto is thoroughly explained by the composer:
Xochiquetzal is a 22-minute Chamber Concerto for Violin and Percussion Sextet. Xochiquetzal was designed as a companion piece to Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Violin with Percussion Orchestra (1950). It is also a companion to my own previous composition for percussion ensemble, El día de los muertos (2006). El día de los muertos and Xochiquetzal are both programmatic works based on Mexican subjects. Both contain folk melodies, and both may be performed with dancers.
Xochiquetzal was an ancient Mayan goddess associated with music, dance, beauty, love, fertility, and female sexual power. She is a similar figure to Aphrodite or Venus in Greek and Roman mythology. The name “Xochiquetzal” (So-chee-KET-sal) means “feather flower,” combining the Nahuatl words for “feather” (quetzal) and “flower” (xochitl). Xochiquetzal is always portrayed as young, beautiful and richly attired, accompanied by hummingbirds and surrounded by yellow marigolds. Marigolds were Xochiquetzal’s signature flower, and they were said to have sprung magically from her tears. Her consort was Tlaloc, the powerful and terrifying God of Thunder and Rain, with whom she had a tempestuous relationship.
To evoke the ancient Mayan world, I present simple pentatonic themes in the spirit of what Manuel de Falla called “imaginary folk music.” In the final movement, there is a quotation of “Xtoles” (Shi-TO-les), an ancient Mayan dance song notated by the Spaniards after the conquest of Mexico. Believed to be one of the oldest known melodies it also appears in my 2001 musical version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, set in pre-Columbian Mexico. These folk materials interact, and sometimes clash, with contemporary sounds to create a synthesis of time periods and cultures.
The violin solo represents Xochiquetzal throughout, and the writing is virtuosic with frequent multiple stops and extensive use of the upper register. The percussion scoring emphasizes pitched instruments (two vibraphones, two marimbas, crotales, glockenspiel, chimes, timpani, seven tuned roto-toms and six tuned nipple gongs) with a wide variety of exotic, non-pitched sounds. Each movement employs a distinctive timbre in keeping with its subject:
Xochiquetzal makes a graceful entrance, accompanied by bowed vibraphone and glass wind chimes to depict her retinue of hummingbirds; the music then grows more spirited to show her power. (II) A seductive, incantatory love spell follows with delicate nipple gongs, and the movement gradually builds in intensity. (III) Tlaloc then appears in an ominous and eventually violent Toccata featuring timpani, roto-toms, bass drum, tam-tam, thunder tube and thunder sheet. Following Tlaloc’s stormy visit, there is a mournful Adagio (IV), depicting Xochiquetzal’s tears, which are represented by crotales, glockenspiel, brass wind chimes, and gently rippling violin arpeggios. The Finale (V) is a rhythmic celebration of music and dance spiced with cow bells, temple blocks, and shakers and featuring a violin cadenza. The “Xtoles” melody joins the other themes, stacked together in a grand quodlibet.
I completed the score in Dallas in June, 2014 in response to a commission from a consortium of percussion ensembles from The New England Conservatory, Frank Epstein, Director; Southern Methodist University, Jon Lee, Director; The State University of New York at Onondaga, Robert Bridge, Director; and The University of North Texas, Christopher Deane, Director. Frank Epstein conducted the premiere performance in November, 2014 in Boston.
— Robert Xavier Rodríguez
The composer re-orchestrated the work for Chloé for violin soloist and piano reduction, which she will record this spring.
In addition to being a world-renown touring violin soloist, Chloé creates wonderfully humorous short videos on the life and work of musicians. The Adams State Percussion Ensemble was fortunate to star in her most recent video where we share the struggles of being a percussionist with impatient conductors. You can view the video here.
To learn more about Chloé and see her future performance dates, visit here website here.
Special thanks to Emily Johnson for tonight's light design, audio engineering, recording, and live streaming.