Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Marimba Trio void...Call to composers!


In directing the Heartland Marimba Festival I am always excited to explore new repertoire for marimba ensemble. This winter and spring I was very much looking forward to a project to premiere Alex Orfaly's Fôr Marimbas, a quartet in three movements. I've been extremely anxious to do this piece since recording his Tanc Szervusz for two xylophones and five percussionists with the Iowa State University Percussion Ensemble in early 2015. His music combines the best of all worlds for me: ultra-contemporary, folk music, contrapuntal and whacky scales, individualistic tonality, and rhythmic/metric, adventurous harmony!

The project focus was to take a slightly different approach to preparing for the HMF summer touring efforts. I was going to rehearse with three doctoral students from the University of Iowa once or twice a month from January until May and then we would be solid and ready to go for the premiere in the summer. I was even thinking of adding another 'big quartet work' to our plan, so we would have two larger pieces up and running in advance of rehearsals for the rest of the show in May. However, I am only able to secure two other players for this project, so we are going forward as a trio.

Finding marimba trio repertoire is particularly difficult. Quartets are abundant. And so are duos. But I found out two years ago that trios are tricky to find. In 2014, I purchased RĂ¼diger Pawassar's Sculpture 3 and Rich O'Meara's Puzzle Piece for the HMF Academy at ISU. We ended up doing a quintet by Anthony DiBartolo called Music for Five Marimbas that summer and performed Sculpture 3 in 2015 on tour. Now I'm in search of 'big rep' trio pieces again for our tour in 2016. This project serves to not only prepare in advance a good portion of our program for the summer touring concerts, but also to highlight our efforts in collaborating with up and coming performers, and to really dig in and experience prepping a work to its fullest potential over a comfortable amount of time. 

So I'm putting out an official call to composers for new marimba trio repertoire. We need pieces for this combination. The duo and quartet are really attractive, but I would argue, to me at least, that the trio and quintet are actually more attractive. Choreographers say it all the time. They prefer an odd number of bodies over a predictable even number any day. I received many great and attractive trios from a message I posted on facebook (list below), but I think we need an abundant and overwhelming amount to really find the true character of this combination. My one request is that young composers will explore something other than minimalism in their new pieces; this includes any pop music systems or references. Develop a tonality that only you know how it works. Come up with 'insane' chord progressions and 'wonky' melodies and write entire pieces based on these ideas. Try to create a whole work or movement from three, five, or seven notes. For percussionist, rhythm and feel is very important. I would ask that for percussionist/composers make harmony, development, and melody just as important. I once was a part of a concert in Germany that was full of percussion pieces of all types (solos, ensemble, electronic, etc.) and I performed four solo, modern fugues. An audience member came up to me afterward to thank me for being the only one that performed a melody that anyone could follow the entire evening.

Marimba Trios (as of 1/20/16):
Bill Alves - Gandrung
Claude Debussy/Arr. by Chain Trio - Menuet from Suite Bergamasque
Mark Ford - Stubernic and Afta-Stuba
Robert Honstein - Patter
Jo KondoA Volcano Mouth
Jo Kondo - Luster Gave Her the Hat and He & Ben Went Across the Backyard 
Daniel Koontz - Muybridge Cycles
Robert Kreutz - Western Sketches
Michael Neumeyer - Drive
Brian Nozny - The Atmos Clock 
Rich O'Meara - Puzzle Piece
RĂ¼diger Pawassar - Sculpture 3
Brian Pfeifer - Still Water (2 marimbas and vibraphone)
James Romig - Out of Frame
Mateusz Ryczek - Seven Knocks
Adam Silverman - The Cruel Waters 
Ivan Trevnio - Open Your Eyes 
Eric Zak - Chasing the Caribou
  Update on 1/14/16: The list keeps growing. This is really wonderful! I had forgotten about the Fujii Family Trio...I did see them perform at PASIC in 2009. I haven't included much of their repertoire above, but have attached the article written by Alan Zimmerman about the Fujii Family from the September 2009 Percussive Notes Publication below as an image. And if you are a PAS member be sure to check out The Fujii Database of Japanese Marimba Works under resources, and you can download a pdf of the article below.

That's a pretty good list so far. Before yesterday I could name two. I've listened to all of these pieces and I applaud all of them. They are definitely in the running for future performances with the Heartland Marimba Festival! I particularly love the efforts of the Chain Trio from Europe. Their repertoire is pushing forward and exploring the uncharted for this combination, and I don't believe I've heard them perform a minimal piece yet. To all composers, please keep writing for marimba, particularly trios. Keep creating, exploring, and developing, and keep it brand new!

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