another oso musician goes to boston symphony

Matthew McKay, who just joined the Oregon Symphony percussion section this season, has won a position in the venerable Boston Symphony. He will be joining former OSO cellist Adam Esbensen, who left for the BSO in 2008.

Problematic for the Oregon Symphony percussion section is that the runner-up in the audition that Matt won here in Oregon was also a winner in the BSO auditions, and so a new round of percussion auditions will have to be held to fill the vacancy. It’s a good problem to have, hiring such great people. We just have to enjoy them while we can.

I know that all of us at the Oregon Symphony will miss Matt’s stellar musicianship and wonderful personality, but wish him all the best in his new gig.

my percussion debut

IMG_7122.JPG | Originally uploaded by nobleviola
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I’m playing with the Third Angle New Music Ensemble next week, in a concert centered around the music of New York ‘downtown’ composer David Lang, who is a member of the illustrious new music group Bang on a Can, and a member of the composition faculty at Yale.

I’m playing middle and high brake drum, triangle, and glockenspiel. It’s humbling to play percussion (and 3A artistic director Ron Blessinger kept rubbing it in by stating that “you can’t un-ring the bell”) – as the one true percussionist in evidence, Gordon Rencher, kept saying “it’s hard to play an instrument that you can’t touch”. So true, and my respect for the oft-maligned percussionist has grown 1000 percent since rehearsal this morning!

The decidedly alien view that greeted me at my percussion "station".
Ron Blessinger (R) watches as Janet Coleman, Hamilton Cheifetz, Gordon Rencher, and Todd Kuhns rehearse.
3A's stalwart leader, Ron Blessinger, addresses the troops.

percussion fest

This past weekend’s concerts were built around pieces that had a very good amount of percussion in them, including the centerpiece of the concert, Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto, with the Scottish percussion soloist Colin Currie.

Percussion instruments are always great for audiences to see and hear in a featured role – you don’t often get to hear them as anything more than a background color, or a reinforcement of a musical climax.  To hear the percussion instrument in the role of solo instruments is to be exposed to a tremendous amount of color, dynamic range and rhythmic vitality.

So this past weekend, it was great to see our percussion section (augmented from its usual three plus timpani to six percussionists) take a central role in all of the pieces on the program.  They did themselves proud, and made all of the pieces come to life.  The sardonic touches in Rodion Shchedrin’s  ballet version of Bizet’s Carmen, were all spot on, and they provided touches of humor, too.

Most of all, I appreciated Jennifer Higdon’s remarkable Percussion Concerto.  The work emerges out of silence, at the lowest octaves of the huge five octave marimba, the notes as much sensed as heard at the outset.  There is a genuine dialogue between the solo percussionist and his colleagues in the orchestra, with a call and response going back and forth, including the tremendous climax of the virtuoso cadenza.  This piece makes the percussion battery a grand musical instrument, not just a collection of noise makers that do so simply for effect.  Jennifer has really become a strong, confident, unique voice in contemporary music – it’s no wonder that she’s one of the most performed living composers today.  It was great to have her here last week for the rehearsals and performances.

What’s coming up next weekend? A tremendous piano soloist, the dynamic and beautiful Yuja Wang plays Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, the orchestra takes up Brahms’ dark and intense Tragic Overture, and we get more percussion featured in Carl Nielsen’s quirky (and hard as hell) Sixth Symphony “Simplice”.  Lots of notes, lots of drama, and lots of great music.