William Kraft Encounters
2010 LATIN GRAMMY NOMINEE - BEST CLASSICAL ALBUM!
Celebrating the 85th birthday of William Kraft, one of America’s most important composers and percussionists, GRAMMY®-winning Southwest Chamber Music, the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble of Mexico and Cambria Master Recordings are proud to announce the release of a major survey of Kraft’s Encounters. This new three-CD release celebrates the 25th recording of Southwest Chamber Music and fills a major gap in the recorded discography of American music.
The set contains over three hours of groundbreaking music that establishes the percussionist as a formidable soloist with various other solo instruments, such as trombone, violin, and cello. The three CDs span fourteen Encounters, documenting a compositional journey that began in the 1960s and will certainly continue with more Encounters in the future. Cambria Master Recordings are distributed world wide by Naxos’ Classics Online.
Southwest Chamber Music Artist Director Jeff von der Schmidt recently observed that “our Encounters project, recorded over a two-year period that began in 2007, is the culmination of many dreams. One was to demonstrate a monumental new canon of work for percussion spanning over forty years of creativity that predicted the now general acceptance of the sounds of world culture, so beautifully resonant with a timbre palate infused with an endless collection of gongs, rattles, tam tams, and marimbas. It’s a veritable clock factory of global influences from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Another was to continue our ensemble’s engagement with the brilliant musicians of Mexico’s Tambuco Percussion Ensemble, which since 2004 has led to numerous and highly successful concert and recording projects in both the United States and Mexico. And finally to celebrate the pater familias of percussionists and their brilliant creative force, William Kraft, a friend and colleague of mine for over thirty years. I hope you enjoy this superb collection of music and the vistas of new and evolving sounds it represents as the Encounters chronicle the music of the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the Age of Aquarius.”
The Encounters were edited and mastered by recording engineer Mathew Snyder of MSR Recordings in Burbank, California. He has been the engineer for Southwest Chamber Music since 1993 and has worked for Cambria Master Recordings, BMG Classics, KOCH International, Orfeo, and Centaur Records, as well as mastering the catalog of Delos International. His other clients include the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival (1992 to present); La Jolla Music Society (1994 to present); Arizona Friends of Chamber Music in Tucson; the Mainly Mozart Festival in San Diego (1998 to present); and Chamber Music Northwest in Portland (2009).
Speaking about the Encounters project, Mr. Snyder said “this is one of the most challenging projects imaginable for an engineer to record. The dynamic range is extreme at both ends of the spectrum. Each Encounter demanded a unique set-up, so that balancing the whole project, over three hours of music, became a rewarding challenge. It’s a great follow-up to the two GRAMMY awards and six consecutive GRAMMY nominations we received for Southwest Chamber Music’s four-volume cycle of the Complete Chamber Music of Carlos Chávez. Kraft produces such a rich range of sounds that the project was very inspiring to work on over the past few years.”
The recordings and concerts prior to the sessions were supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Schoenberg Family Charitable Fund, the James Irvine Foundation, the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University, and the Argosy Contemporary Music Fund.
William Kraft (b. 1923, Chicago) has had a long and active career as composer, conductor, percussionist, and teacher. In the summer of 2002, he retired as chairman of the composition department and holder of the Corwin Chair at the University of California, Santa Barbara. From 1981-1985, Mr. Kraft was the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Composer-in-Residence. During his residency, he was founder and director of the orchestra’s performing arm for contemporary music, the Philharmonic New Music Group. Mr. Kraft had previously been a performing member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 26 years – eight years as percussionist, and the last 18 as Principal Timpanist. For three seasons, he was also assistant conductor of the Philharmonic, and, thereafter, made frequent appearances as guest conductor. During his early years in Los Angeles, Mr. Kraft organized and directed the Los Angeles Percussion Ensemble, a group which played a vital part in premieres and recordings of works by such renowned composers as Ginastera, Harrison, Krenek, Stravinsky, Varèse, and many others. As percussion soloist, he performed the American premieres of Stockhausen’s Zyklus and Boulez’s Le Marteau sans Maître, in addition to recording Histoire du soldat under Stravinsky’s direction.
Mr. Kraft has received numerous commissions and awards, including two Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards; two Guggenheim Fellowships; two Ford Foundation commissions; fellowships from the Huntington Hartford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts; the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Music Award; and numerous others. Mr. Kraft’s works have been performed by orchestras throughout the United States and around the world, including in Europe, Japan, Korea, China, Australia, Israel, and the former Soviet Union. In November 1990, Mr. Kraft was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Percussive Arts Society.
In 2005, Mr. Kraft’s Concerto No. 2 for Timpani: The Grand Encounter, commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, was premiered under Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas with David Herbert as soloist. A significantly revised version of the concerto was premiered in the spring of 2007 by the Hong Kong Philharmonic, conducted by Xian Zhang, with soloist James Boznos; later the same year, David Herbert gave the first U.S. performance at the annual convention of the Percussive Arts Society in Columbus (Ohio), with the Akron Symphony, under Guy Victor Bordo. Red Azalea, an opera commissioned by the Modern Music Theater Troupe (London), was premiered in 2002 at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s New Music Festival, followed by its European premiere in London. Compact discs completely devoted to Mr. Kraft’s music can be found on the Harmonia Mundi, CRI, Cambria, Crystal, Albany, and Nonesuch labels. Other works have been released on GM, Crystal, London Decca, Townhall, EMI, and Neuma.
Mr. Kraft received his bachelor’s degree cum laude (1951) and his master’s degree (1954) from Columbia University, where he was awarded two Anton Seidl Fellowships. His principal instructors were Jack Beeson, Seth Bingham, Henry Brant, Henry Cowell, Erich Hertzmann, Paul Henry Lang, Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky. He received his training in percussion from Morris Goldenberg and in timpani from Saul Goodman, and studied conducting with Rudolph Thomas and Fritz Zweig.
A Monumental Bash
A month ago, William Kraft turned 85, and about that time the composer finished the series of chamber pieces he calls "Encounters," which he began in the early '70s. "Encounters XV" had its world premiere Monday night at Zipper Concert Hall as the final work in the final concert of Southwest Chamber Music's three-concert survey of the series.
Kraft is a renowned percussionist, and percussionists can sometimes be defensive. In remarks to the audience between pieces - helping fill time during the long periods required for setups - he explained the usual route percussionists take. "First they become drummers," he said cheerfully. "Then they become percussionists. Then they become musicians." He also noted that expressivity works its way down in the orchestra, with string instruments having the greatest emotional resources and percussionists the least.
But in the ability to create a variety of sounds, percussion is tops. And new sounds, Kraft explained, are his passion. Every work in the "Encounters" series is novel. In fact, Kraft makes one wonder if the fountain of youth might not be hidden amid all those gongs, bells, drums and marimbas. Could the vibrations of a vibraphone be a miracle anti-aging device? No one would take Kraft, with the spring in his step and the healthy rebelliousness against authority in his answers to questions, to be 85.
But now that "Encounters" has been completed, it can be seen as giving meaning to the passage of decades. These pieces serve for Kraft the way the string quartet did for Beethoven or Shostakovich, as a kind of autobiography in chamber music. Each is a personal work in which the percussion part serves as Kraft's alter ego encountering some other musical being. In every case, the traditional instrument is the one that ultimately seems a little strange.
Monday's program contained two of the earliest in the series and the two latest. "Encounters IV" is subtitled "Duel for Trombone and Percussion," and it is just that. It was written in 1972, during protests against the Vietnam War, and the score begins with the trombone softly calling out in Morse code, "Make war to make peace." Timpani respond to him, softly tapping back. Twenty minutes later, the trombonist, having tried everything under the sun to take on increasingly colorful and untamed noise makers, ties a white flag to his instrument and walks offstage in defeat.
If I am reading the symbolism correctly, this is an inventively subversive work. A lone trombone represents the honking war machine, single-minded in voice, while the battery of untamed sounds from percussion is the powerful voice of the crowd, the antiwar protesters. The performance by Bill Booth, theatrical with his trombone, and Alfredo Bringas was a knockout.
"Encounters V," from 1976, takes its subtitle, "In the Morning of the Winter Sea," from a poem by Carl A. Faber, who was Kraft's therapist. For cello and percussion, it was written during a difficult time in Kraft's life, he said, and the music rarely settles down. A storm begins brewing in high harmonics from both parties. Agitation is the music's main character, rarely settling down -- even the quiet pealing of bells can feel as disconcerting as thunder. This was another outstanding performance, with Peter Jacobson the fluent cellist and Ricardo Gallardo the equally and ideally fluent percussionist.
Lynn Vartan served as percussionist in the two recent "Encounters." In these works, the percussionist no longer wins, yet Vartan proved herself to be a commander of color, of which there is a riot. Kraft may have mellowed, but he hasn't lost his, you might say, pluck.
"Encounters XIV" had its premiere on Martha's Vineyard two summers ago. Called "Concerto a Tre," it joins violin and piano to a fun house of percussion and is essentially lyrical. The piano part, played by Ming Tsu, has a sophisticated jazz quality, cool and Bill Evans-ish. The violin is expected to be another percussion instrument, whether squealing or sweetly twanged, and Shalini Vijayan complied nicely.
The final "Encounter" is the most lyrical. It was written for John Schneider and Vartan. Schneider used a standard guitar and a "prepared one." The latter had alligator clips attached to the strings to produce a metallic effect, and both guitars were lightly amplified.
The percussion contingent was large and included a marimba, vibes and any number of gongs. But the sound of bells predominated. In five short sections, Kraft flits between delicate melody and jazzy drumming, with deeply affecting ease. "Encounters XV" is a delight. And the whole set, which will be recorded for release as a three-CD set next year, is a monument both to Kraft and to the world of percussion. (Copyright Los Angeles Times)
William Kraft - 42 Years of Encounters
If you live long enough, so the old saw goes, you can become an institution; and William Kraft, who turns 85 on September 6, suddently finds himself the dean of composers in Los Angeles (and possibly of the West Coast)
But the advancing years are a mere distraction for Kraft, who is always busy with some project or other. He's still composing up a storm from his handsome Altadena house overlooking Pasadena and continues to be curious about the latest developments in new music or the old developments that he missed the first time around, like those in jazz, his first love.
Up until last October, though, Kraft never witnessed an entire evening devoted to his music. So with his 85th birthday in mind, Southwest Chamber Music boldly stepped into the breach with not one but three all-Kraft concerts, the first complete cycly of his series of Encounters for percussion and other instruments. Kraft began writing Encounters back in 1966 for a new music series of the same name, and the idea just took on a life of its own. There are now 13 of them-an epic body of work comparable in scope to Luciano Berio's Sequenzas for solo instruments. And Kraft isn't through yet; he's working on a 14th for percussion and microtonal guitar.
The retrospective started last October in the Colburn School's Zipper Hall in Los Angeles with performances of Encounters I, II, III, VI, and VII, continued there in March with Encounters VIII, IX, X, XII, and the world premiere of XIII, and will conclude this fall (date as yet undertermined) with Encounters IV, V, XI and the world premiere of XIV
Not only that; Southwest Chamber Music is recording all of them for release sometime in 2009 on Cambria, which shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with this group's penchant for big-thinking recording projects (like the monumental 12-CD Composer Portrait Series box and the complete chamber music of Carlos Chavez.)
The Encounters are a wildly varied bunch. No two are alike; most push out the limits of how percussion instruments can be used as reasonable musical vehicles in confrontations with instruments of definite pitch. The candidly engaging Kraft says that percussion instruments are the least expressive of any in the orchestra; so, in order to overcome that limiation, he emphasized the element of color, the percussion family's biggest selling point. The onetime jazz drummer and former Los Angeles Philharmonic percussionist also adds, wickedly, "The encounter is fixed so the percussionist always wins."
The March 17 installment began with Encounters X, a mini-suite of brief highly varied jousts between violinist Shalini Vijayan and marimba player Lynn Vartan that were sometimes angular, sometimes chasing each other, concluding with a fascinating repeated pattern that resembled a stuck groove at the end of a record fading away. Kraft's jazz connection surfaced noticeably in Encounters IX for alto saxophone and percussion. Saxophonist Richard Mitchell was able to produce unmarked, soulful jazz inflections in each, with Vartan indulging in some of Kraft's favorite colors-bowed crotales and vibraphone keys.
Inspired by the harp writing of Toru Takemitsu, Encounters XII for harp (Alison Bjorkedal) and percussion (Ricardo Gallardo from Mexico's Tambuco Percussion Ensemble) was a pure coloristic mood piece with a somewhat Asian flavor, exploiting a huge variety of sounds ranging from delicate mallet work on cowbells to short, sharp shots. Encounters VIII was, you might say, a percussion ensemble piece for one player, the irrepressibly agile Vartan, with colorful battering on a variety of small gongs and cowbells and loud rolls on the full-sized gong announcing various sections.
Encounters XIII broke the mold again, for this work for standard wind quintet and percussion, completed only last October, dispensed with the usual massed sonorities for this fivesome. Instead, the quintet chattered away as individuals in imaginative new combinations, eventually settling on a dirge. The piece has a veledictory quality that made it fee like a last work, though it obviously isn'tl Like Shostakovich in his Symphony No. 15, Kraft reverts to a percussive vision of his youth at the end, a shuffle beat on the hi-hat cymbals that recalls Jo Johnes, Count Basic's uplifting drummer of the 1930s and 40s.
In general, the earlier Encounters heard in October were perhaps a bit more alluring than most of the later ones. Yet, when the two concerts combine in memory, Kraft can be seen as gradually evolving a style that he calls American impressionnism. The third concert should fill in the gaps and push forward from there. We should all be so engaged at 84! (Copyright American Record Guide)
Kraft’s ‘Encounters’ with percussion art
William Kraft paints with percussion.
To me, though, the 84-year-old dean of Los Angeles composers and former L.A. Philharmonic percussionist -- feisty as ever and currently being celebrated by Southwest Chamber Music in the first complete survey of his "Encounters" series -- is an out-and-out musical Abstract Expressionist. Monday night in the Colburn School's Zipper Hall, five late works in this sequence of percussion pieces were given, including the premiere of "Encounters XIII." Sonic action painting it all was.
In most of these works, an alien instrument or instruments "encounters" percussion, which usually takes the form of a vast, alluring battery. An encounter, Kraft said in one of his lighthearted introductions from the stage, implies warfare, and he has shamelessly rigged matters so that the percussion always wins.
If the first piece on the program, "Encounters X: Duologue for Violin and Marimba," was the least physically active because it uses but a single percussion instrument -- the marimba. Agitated violin lines are picked up by agitated percussion lines and thrown back and forth, as wood meets wood.
"Encounters IX," for alto saxophone and percussion, attracts through resonance. Moody, chromatic saxophone lines are made to linger when the alto's tone is enhanced by gongs and, later, restless, rustling snares. Tone colors bend in the wind.
Heaven enters the picture in "Encounters XII." A harp is the outsider trying to maintain an ethereal calm while subjected to erratic, aggressive drums and other explosive devices. Drum blasts are followed by sweetly pastoral cowbells, as if a minefield were being evoked, all while the harp floats on the wings of weightless glissandi.
The earliest of the evening's "Encounters" was the eighth. Playing this piece written in 1978 for solo percussionist and a great many instruments, Lynn Vartan -- who was also the commanding performer in the violin and sax "Encounters" -- was in motion for 16 minutes. She began with heraldic ringing and ended quietly. In between, she was the model of a musical action painter.
The new "Encounters XIII" is for wind quintet and percussion. In a discussion before the premiere, Kraft and Jeff von der Schmidt, who conducted, agreed on their dislike of the sound of combined flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon. But that is what percussionist Ken McGrath, who commissioned the score, wanted. And given that McGrath saved up for 20 years to be able to afford the commission, a wind quintet is what he got.
He also got a small masterpiece. Kraft took the wind quintet as a challenge. The five instruments rarely play together, so he could deal with their individual palettes more easily. He was also extravagant with his instrumentation, which includes contrabassoon, bass clarinet and piccolo among the winds.
The score lasts not quite nine minutes. And if Kraft wants to call it American Impressionism, he can. The color fields are exceptionally subtle. Cymbals pick up shimmering wind harmonics. The ominous buzz of the contrabassoon seems to magically slow down when underscored by the percussionist's tom-tom-tom.This "Encounter" is an encounter with Kraft's past as well. As a kid in San Diego, he fell for percussion listening to the high hat of Count Basie's drummer, Jo Jones. Jones' high-hat style makes an appearance as the fade-out of "Encounter XIII," which Kraft described as "sins of my continuing youth" -- not a bad subtitle for the piece or the series
Percussion Triumphs in Southwest's Season Opener
Speaking about his "Encounters" series from the Zipper Concert Hall stage Monday night, composer William Kraft explained that "one theory guiding these pieces is that percussion wins." Indeed, over the course of six "Encounters" pieces dating from the '60s and '70s and presented in Southwest Chamber Music's season opener, percussion of shifting colors and functions commanded the spotlight with bravado and poetry. It won.
Percussion music came of age during the 20th century, and Kraft had a stake in that process. His illustrious history includes years as a percussionist in the Los Angeles Philharmonic, as a composer of international repute and as a musical spark plug who started the Phil's New Music Group in the '80s.
Southwest Chamber is taking its "Encounters" project seriously. The concert series is set to continue in March with a new commission. A recording is planned for release on Kraft's 85th birthday next September. Like those in the audience, Kraft seemed ebullient Monday at the opportunity to experience several "Encounters" in a concentrated evening, passionately played. Heard together, the works engage in dialogue - comparing, contrasting and cross-talking.
Kraft's playful medieval battle game plan of "Encounters III: Duel for Trumpet and Percussion" (with percussionist Lynn Vartan and trumpeter Tony Ellis in friction and accord) contrasts with the pacifist aura, with texts including passages from the Bible and Longfellow, of "Encounters VII: Blessed Are the Peacemakers: For They Shall Be Called the Children of God, for Speaker and Two Percussionists." In the latter, John Schneider lent his warm, clear voice as narrator, and percussionists Vartan and Miguel Gonzalez moved between atmospherics and tight unisons.
Kraft belongs to the elite group of composers combining the serialist and the sensualist. The solo tuba tour de force of "Encounters II" - commissioned by Roger Bob and played beautifully Monday by Zach Collins - ventures into extremes of range and dynamics, enlivening the "atonal" writing.
The concert at the Colburn School hall in L.A. opened with "Soliloquy: Encounters I for Solo Percussion and Tape," and Ricardo Gallardo supplied proper virtuosity and subtlety. Closing the concert boldly, Vartan was the vibrant soloist on pitch-altering roto-toms in "Concertino for Roto-Toms & Percussion Quartet." The fine Mexico City-based ensemble Tambuco acted as a roving, supportive quartet.
That wild and yet sonically effective instrumentation points to the creative character and taste for reinvention embedded in the Kraft aesthetic. While well grounded in 20th century compositional vocabulary, he also has felt free and confident enough to make things up as goes along, like any good Modernist.
Click here to learn more about the featured performers on William Kraft Encounters
SOUTHWEST CHAMBER MUSIC will celebrate a transformative season in 2009-2010 as international cultural ambassador for the United States. The U.S. State Department selected our ensemble from a highly competitive field to produce the Ascending Dragon Festival and Cultural Exchange from March to May 2010, the most significant musical cultural exchange between Vietnam and the United States in the history of the two nations. Ascending Dragon will involve six weeks of performances in Hanoi, Saigon, and Los Angeles, with performances at the Hanoi Opera House and the Vietnam National Academy of Music in Hanoi, the Ho Chi Minh City Conservatory in Saigon, the Zipper Hall at The Colburn and the Armory Center for the Arts in Los Angeles and Pasadena.
In December 2009, Southwest Chamber Music will travel to Mexico, representing our country at the Guadalajara FIL Arts Festival, a festival produced alongside the world’s largest Spanish book fair. Guadalajara invites one host country each year, which this year features arts organizations from Los Angeles representing the United States. Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, Southwest Chamber Music is the only classical music organization of the 16 Los Angeles arts organizations selected. We will reunite with the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble of Mexico city in a concert of American and Mexican music.
In January and February 2010 the ensemble will collaborate with the Armory Center for the Arts for its 20th anniversary with a series of concerts of music by John Cage performed inside the Amory Gallery retrospective exhibition devoted to Robert Rauschenberg. This summer finds our GRAMMY Award-winning group releasing its 25th CD, a monumental 3 CD set surveying the world of percussion with the Encounters by William Kraft.
Southwest Chamber Music’s ability to energize classical music includes recent projects of international cultural significance. In December 2006, the ensemble produced cultural exchange programs with Cambodia’s Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, the 2006 World Culture Expo at the temples of Angkor Wat, and the Vietnam National Academy of Music. The 2006 tour to Southeast Asia featured the music of Grawemeyer Award-winning, Cambodian-American composer Chinary Ung. These were the first residencies by an American ensemble since the end of the Vietnam War and Khmer Rouge era in Southeast Asia. Southwest Chamber Music also performed in May 2007 at the UNAM Center in Mexico City with a cycle of five concerts of the complete chamber works of Carlos Chávez, joined by the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble. The ensemble has also been presented by the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., Cooper Union in New York City, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Getty Center, Orange County Performing Arts Center, Ojai Festival, and Luckman Fine Arts Center. Guest conductors appearing with the ensemble have included Oliver Knussen, Stephen L. Mosko, and Charles Wuorinen. In March 2003, Southwest Chamber Music became the first American ensemble to perform at the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna.
As a two-time GRAMMY Award-winner, Southwest Chamber Music has one of the most impressive recorded discographies of any American chamber ensemble with the release of their 25th recording in 2009. The group has received six GRAMMY® nominations for its four volume cycle of the Complete Chamber Works of Carlos Chávez on Cambria Master Recordings. This recognition from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences includes 2003 and 2004 GRAMMY Awards in the Best Small Ensemble category for Volumes 1 and 2. Three further nominations for Volume 3 are shared with the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble of Mexico City, including Best Classical Album and Best Small Ensemble nominations in 2005, and a Latin GRAMMY Best Classical Album nomination in 2006. Finally, Volume 4 was honored with a 2007 Latin GRAMMY Best Classical Album nomination. Southwest Chamber Music’s Composer Portrait Series on Cambria Master Recordings received a 2002 ASCAP-Chamber Music America Award for a “landmark set of 12 compact discs featuring American music of our time.” The ensemble has also recorded works of Prokofiev and Poulenc on Cambria, as well as the late works of Krenek for Orfeo Records in Munich. The ensemble’s 25 recordings are available from Cambria Master Recordings, with world-wide distribution by Naxos (Classics Online). More information about Southwest Chamber Music is available at www.swmusic.org.
GRAMMY-nominated TAMBUCO PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE was founded in 1993 by four distinguished Mexican musicians and is considered one of the most important percussion ensembles today. Tambuco has received many distinctions and prizes from cultural organizations in Mexico and abroad. They have performed in the USA (Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center), Tokyo (Ino Hall), London (Barbican Center), Paris and Montpellier (Festival de Radio France), Lisbon (Festival dos Cern Dias and Expo ’98), Shanghai Festival (2006) plus concerts in Spain, Germany, Italy, Cuba, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Venezuela, Canada, India, Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, as well as practically all the concert halls of Mexico.
Tambuco recorded with the Kronos Quartet on the twice GRAMMY-nominated album Nuevo. Tambuco began its association with Southwest Chamber Music in October of 2004, performing and recording all the work for percussion and ensemble of Carlos Chávez, This CD was nominated for three GRAMMYs, including Best Classical Album from both mainstream and Latin GRAMMY. In May 2007, Tambuco and Southwest Chamber Music performed a five concert cycle of the complete chamber music of Chávez at the UNAM Center in Mexico City. In December 2009 they will reunite for performances at the Guadalajara FIL Festival in Jalisco, Mexico. For more information about Tambuco Percussion Ensemble, please visit: www.tambuco.org
Soliloquy: Encounters I for Solo Percussion and Tape: Karen Ervin, one of America’s prominent percussionists, wished to commission a piece with which she could travel easily on her various tours. That meant utilizing readily obtainable instruments – and not too many of them. The vibraphone was chosen as the core, because it is the most faceted and colorful of all the percussion instruments: it can produce sustained tones and short tones; it can be struck or bowed; and it can be made comparatively pitchless by various kinds of muting – and even totally pitchless if one were to strike parts other than the bars. In order to give the piece a larger aura, it was decided to incorporate tape. The tape music was created from naturally produced (not synthesized) sound sources. The use of tape intends to give the piece a sense of a concerto, the tape functioning like an orchestra, sometimes accompanying, and sometimes making major statements. Ms. Ervin premiered the work at the Percussive Arts Society Convention in Chicago in 1975.
Encounters II was written for Roger Bobo in December of 1966, and premiered at the “Encounters” concert series in Pasadena in 1967. The first thing Roger and I did was spend a day together, during which we engaged in a creative interplay of ideas and exploration of the instrument’s possibilities. The resultant work was, as Roger described it in the liner notes of his second recording of the piece, “higher, lower, faster (probably louder or softer) than any previous work” for tuba. From the multitude of techniques that evolved, I chose those which I felt were best suited for a piece that was basically expressive along relatively traditional lines. Certain exploratory techniques were eliminated to suit the aesthetics of the piece – an aesthetic wherein I wanted to show the truly musical possibilities of the instrument without delving into effects for their own sake. I wanted to undertake the challenge of writing a set of variations for a solo player in which he would create the illusion of accompanying himself, sometimes by use of various dynamic levels, sometimes by varying pitch registrations, and especially by utilizing the voice while playing. Much of what resulted was due not only to Mr. Bobo’s remarkable virtuosity, but also to his creative intelligence.
Encounters III is conceived of as a medieval battle; the trumpet represents the attacking force, the percussion the defending. There are three movements: I Strategy, II Truce of God, III Tactics. Under one of the classical theories of warfare, strategy is considered the process of getting the enemy to come to battle, and tactics are the ways the battle is fought. The title Truce of God refers to a medieval convention of war wherein truce, supervised by the Pope, was maintained from sundown Thursday to sunrise Monday.
I. Strategy: After the approaching force (trumpet) has established contact with the defender (percussion) the players-combatants launch into a series of twelve attacks and counterattacks. Medieval soldiers were often fixed in a position behind their shields with their spears jammed into the ground to impale horses – or men. The percussion, as the defending force, thusly is given twelve counterattacks which correspond to twelve attacks, and the percussionist must recognize the attack and give the corresponding counterattack. They may also do these in order, one through twelve.
II. Truce of God is based on the Landini cadence (7-6-8), creation of the 14th century composer Francesco Landini (1325-1397). In reference to the peaceful and holy aspects of the truce, the orchestration centers on bell sounds of many varieties – song bells, tuned gongs, vibraphone, Pyrenees cowbell and glockenspiel – while the trumpet suggests distant horns or bugles.
III. Tactics is made of real skirmishes and battles calling for great virtuosity on the part of both soloists. The middle of the movement is occupied by two cadenzas, on for the trumpet and one for the percussion. A last skirmish leads to the denouement – the defeat and withdrawal of the trumpet, and the restoration of peace.
Encounters III was commissioned by Thomas Stevens and premiered in 1972.
Encounters IV was commissioned by Karen and Thomas Ervin for an album of duos which Karen recorded for Crystal Records. Mr. Ervin was her trombone protagonist, not only on the recording, but also at the world premiere, which took place at the University of Arizona in March of 1973.
Patterned after its predecessor Encounters III: Duel for Trumpet and Percussion, Encounters IV is based on medieval warfare. The first movement, Strategy (the manner in which one engages the enemy), is made of a series of attacks and counter-attacks, the trombone being the aggressor, the percussion responding from a fixed position – as did defenders in the middle ages. The opening has the trombone approaching and spelling out in Morse code an idea rather popular during the Second World War: “Make war to make peace” – while the defending percussionist strengthens his position with a growing ostinato. Then there are 12 attacks and counterattacks, which may be performed in different ways: 1) in order, 1 through 12; 2) in an order predetermined by the performers; 3) in random order, in which the percussionist must immediately recognize the attack and respond accordingly. In this latter case, provisions must be made for those interlocked attacks and counterattacks which are simultaneous.
The second movement is the most explicit commentary in the piece. It is titled Truce of God after a medieval convention supervised by the Pope, wherein fighting was suspended from Thursday sundown to Monday sunrise. The ineffectuality of this convention against man’s evidently stronger predilection for combat is represented by a variation which distorts the conductus Beata Viscera by the 13th century composer Perotin, accompanied by interspersed bell sounds of gongs, vibraphone and stainless steel bowls, along with various comments from the percussion.
The third movements, Tactics (the way in which the battle is fought) is “all out war,” with the combatants locked in virtuosic battle, climaxing in the defeat and retreat of the trombone, who spells out “peace” as he departs.
In the morning of the winter sea
our shape presents itself
the fruit of all storms
a fragile sound
Unseen the soul dance
returns to the sea
our lover restless
Orpheus carries us beyond our eyes
To see these storm gifts
The etching of the sea kiss
in warm tears
more than they say we are
Carl A. Faber
Carl Faber was a psychotherapist who helped me through a difficult period in my life as I was working on Encounters V. Encounters V was commissioned by the Ford Foundation and written for cellist Nathaniel Rosen. It was premiered in 1976 in Alice Tully Hall (Lincoln Center, New York) by Mr. Rosen, with the composer performing the percussion part. In the course of the piece, which probes the relationships of violoncello and percussion, specific references are made to Scriabin’s Ninth Sonata. As it progresses, the work incorporates more of Scriabin’s “mystic chord,” which was involved in the serial formulation of the composition. Encounters VI: Concertino for Roto-toms and Percussion Quartet was written in 1976. Here I have adapted a standard musical form to a contemporary medium. The concertino is a small concerto; a one-movement work that draws upon the basic principles of the concerto form – two bodies of sound which at times compete, contrast, or act together.
The piece explores the musical possibilities of Roto-toms. The sound of these drums is a cross between a tom-tom and a timpani, and their pitch is changed by rotating the drum. During the course of the work, the various effects used include pitch and fingernail glissandi; playing on the rims; and playing on the heads with fingers, brushes, timpani sticks, wood mallets or rattan. Harmonics on the octave and the fourth above the fundamental pitch are produced by the drums when weights (in this case, small pitched cymbals called “crotales”) are placed in the center of the drum heads. In return the drum itself acts as a resonator for the crotales, which also have a fundamental pitch when played on the face and a partial a fifth above when played on the center dome.
The opening section of the concertino introduces a motive, played by the soloist, while the ensemble sustains a bowed chord on the vibraphone. Following this cadenza-like introduction, the piece gradually moves into a bright 6/8 tempo that is characterized by constant 16th note patterns and the soloist plays an improvised solo. Next, an interlude is presented by the ensemble which leads to a dramatic recapitulation by the soloist of the motivic material. A thematically-derived coda concludes the work.
Encounters VI, commissioned by Remo Belli, is dedicated to Jennifer Kraft, the composer’s daughter. The premiere took place in 1976 at the MENC Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and was performed by the Temple University Percussion Ensemble conducted by Glenn Steele.
Encounters VII was commissioned by Steve Grimo and Pat Hollenbeck for a series of performances in the Boston area. Two of the earlier Encounters (III and IV) were, with some humorous intent, structurally derived from certain tenets of war: Strategy, Truce of God (a medieval practice), and Tactics. In Encounters VII the approach is more personal, being based on various anti-war poems. Each section of the work, except for the opening, begins by quoting a specific poem, and then goes on to a musical setting. Quotations are from the Bible, The Arsenal at Springfield by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Issa, and The Jewish Conscript (1916) by Florence Kiper Frank.
Encounters VIII was commissioned by Dean Anderson originally under Mr. Anderson's requested title Divinations. Subsequently it seemed appropriate to have the work join my Encounters series and to replace the discarded original Encounters VIII, but to retain that dedication to James Latimer. Divinations was premiered October 7, 1995 by the Boston Musica Viva, with Dean Anderson as soloist. As Encounters VIII the first performance took place March 17, 2008 with Lynn Vartan as soloist as part of the Southwest Chamber Music's project of performing and recording my Encounters pieces. It is a virtuosic piece involving a wide array of instruments: marimba, vibraphone, pedal bass drum, Om coil chime, six almglocken, conga drum, four tam tams, two cymbals, 16 gongs, four cup bells, bongos, snare, tenor and field drums. Divinations is seven sections connected by the two pivotal motives which open the piece. The first motive is a crescendo roll on a tam tam followed by the second motive: two large clusters covering the entire vibraphone keyboard. The first section is centered on Station I. It is characterized by an alternation between quiet sustained or gently moving music and bursts of rapid figures which subside into the second section, a quiet interlude. The third section begins with an extension of the first motive involving all four tam tams taking the soloist to Station II – primarily an interplay between suspended and muted gongs. The second motive – two large clusters – opens the fourth section. A large muffler (e.g. a janitor’s broom) isolates the high, low and middle registers, respectively, of the vibraphone. Other instruments join in. On the whole, the fourth section can be considered a second interlude. The tam tam rolls are not taken by the cup bells to introduce section five (the third large section) and takes the player to Station III. This section centers itself on the six drums and is climaxed in a cadenza. The cadenza stops with a sharp stroke on the high bongo followed by accelerating strokes leading into a one hand tremolo and finally a concluding circular glissando around the drum. The motive rolls on the tam tams body end section five and introduce a fourth interlude, and the motive clusters on the vibraphone melt into the music of the closing coda.
Encounters IX (1982) was commissioned by Baylor University for David Hastings and Larry Vanlandingham. It was premiered July 9, 1982 at the International Saxophone Congress in Nuremburg, Germany by Hastings and Vanlandingham. The work is in one continuous movement with a variety of sections within. As with the other works in my Encounters series, particularly those involving solo percussion and an instrument, the attempt is made to draw out the relationships as well as the differences between the two soloists. This means that sometimes the percussion will be melodic and sometimes the saxophone will be percussive. The rest of the time they will be doing their own thing. Encounters IX has undergone a substantial revision for the performance by Don Liuzzi and Marshall Taylor. I thank Marshall for his insights and suggestions. This recording marks the premiere of the revised version.
In Encounters X, advantage is taken of the various recent developments in marimba technique to attain a range of expressivity as equal to the violin as possible. Also, while the violin has advantages in some areas, e.g. smooth legato playing, the marimba has advantages elsewhere, e.g. control of four notes at once. The exchange of double stops (two notes at once) and of short virtuosic bursts in the opening measure display immediately two areas of equality: 1.) percussive attacks 2.) agility. The opening two measures are to be heard twice more in the 1st movement, somewhat varied, serving as structural pillars. The other elements of construction – which instrument does what when, the pitch and harmonic determinations etc. – are best left to the oft stated truism “Music speaks for itself.” After all, music eventually becomes a private experience for each listener. The 2nd movement, which comes without interruption, begins with very rapid, soft, perhaps eerie to some, figures played by the violin. Much of the playing is “ponticello” – a manner of playing near the bridge of the violin creating a sound often described as “glassy.” The subtitle of this movement is “Fantasmagoria III.” The term came from the dedication Nicolas Slonimsky wrote on the frontispiece of my copy of his autobiography “Perfect Pitch.” The surrounding phrase extracted here is “…and in free time compose fatasmagorias in musical fata morgana…” Needless to say the word suggested a musical setting. Encounters X was commissioned by the Serge Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress, dedicated to the memory of Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky and written in particular for Marimolin. It was premiered November 13, 1992 by Marimolin (Nancy Zeltsman, marimba; Sharan Leventhal, violin) at the 1992 Percussive Arts Society International Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
Encounters XII was written in 2003 and premiered August 12 of that year at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara on the summer series of concerts of the Music Academy of the West. The remarkable soloists were David Herbert, percussion, and Alison Bjorkedal, harp. The title/pun is meant to combine the character of the Encounters Series (battles, duo-confrontations), but the actual music emphasizes integration rather than confrontation. Encounters XII was a unique challenge because of the delicacy and vulnerability of the harp. At the same time, it was a wonderful opportunity to bring out the delicate and poetic side of percussion. For that reason, the percussion instruments involved are: Vibraphone, Marimba, Seated ("Temple"; "Prayer") Bell (also called "Bowl" and "Cupped Gong"), Almglocken or Tuned Gamelan Gongs, Crotales or Glockenspiel (a misnomer for "Orchestra Bells"), Graduated Drums, Sizzle Cymbal and Large Tam-Tam. The drums, which can, of course, be played quite forcefully, are never used that way. Rather, when they are utilized, they are played with sponge-headed mallets, which I had made for soft sounds, though soft timpani mallets can also be used. I like to term the musical language "American Impressionism," though the much respected critic Mark Swed calls it "Abstract Expressionism" and goes on to say that I "paint with percussion." I like that. The first movement opens with harp playing the same pitch in many different ways: B-flat - A-sharp - B-flat as a harmonic, A-sharp as a harmonic, and then moves into a discrete interplay with vibraphone and, later; marimba. This discrete interplay dominates the rest of the piece.
Encounters XIII was first performed on March 17, 2008. Kenneth McGrath was the soloist with Jeff von der Schmidt conducting. The occasion was the first of 3 concerts devoted to performing and recording the complete series of my Encounters pieces. It occurs to me that one may call this the Hi Hat concertina. The High Hat is a part of the jazz drummer’s arsenal: 2 mounted cymbals opposing one another horizontally, striking together but opening immediately to allow the cymbals to ring or pressing shut to get a dry "chuck" sound, all controlled by a pedal mechanism. The traditional rhythmic motive of the Hi Hat particularly in the swing/big band era, was de dum de, de dum de i.e. short long short, short long short. This motive is notated +o+, +o+, and in various guises, subtly ties the piece together. It opens the piece in variations via a bass drum solo wherein the drum is muted (+) by hand. The motive reoccurs ever so often, sometimes obviously, sometimes peeking the rough the fabric of woodwinds. But, it ends the piece in a very straight-ahead manner, turning the motive around periodically e.g. +o+. +o+, +o+o+. Joe Jones, the drummer with Count Basie's band, hypnotized me with that turn around when I was 15, and determined me to become a drummer. My particular affection for the woodwind quintet lies with the sounds of the individual instruments rather than the combined sound of the ensemble. This idea invites duos, (percussion with one other instrument) -or, as in the center of the piece a trio: percussion with flute and oboe with bass clarinet, horn and contrabassoon providing a supportive body. Encounters XIII ends with the Hi Hat, playing in the Joe Jones manner, and dying away, as if to indicate that era is gone.
Encounters XIV: Concerto a Tre: it was, indeed, a challenge to integrate these three instruments, which have such contrasting idiomatic characteristics: the piano, essentially a pitched percussion instrument, though with strings which can actually be bowed using fish line, but not in this piece; the violin, essentially a sound sustaining instrument which can become percussive primarily by plucking the strings, i.e., pizzicato, but also through other means, but not in this piece; and then the percussion, an array of instruments known mostly as “percussive,” but some of which can be bowed.
This integration is what became fascinating in the composing of Concerto a Tre, and it seems that this fascination suffers by writing about it. As Samuel Beckett once put it, “only music can penetrate the veil of its own existence.”
So, if the reader will forgive me, I prefer he/she be just a listener.
Encounters XV was commissioned by the Fromm Foundation to complete the Encounters project of the Southwest Chamber Music. Encounters XV is dedicated to my dear friend Charlotte Hyde. Charlotte was born in Paris 2 years before the death of Debussy and shares my intense love of the music of both Debussy and Ravel. As a child her father made her aware of the richness of French culture in all its forms --- experiences which shaped her personality. The strength of her personality is indicated by her becoming a member of the French Resistance during the World War II --- smuggling weapons and helping to hide those facing extermination by the Nazis. For this, Charlotte was awarded the National Order of Merit (L’Ordre du Merite National) by the French government. This dedication is but a small recompense for bringing an awareness of her life’s experience into my world --- and all without intention or pretension but only by my determined inquiry. I have said, more or less facetiously, that each of the pieces in the Encounters series is fixed so that the percussion wins. In XII, for harp and percussion and now XV, considering the delicacy of the harp and the guitar that seems quite unfair. However since the guitar can be amplified it is therefore possible to create a state of equality. During the composition of Soliloquy: Encounters I, I found that combining the interval of a 6th on the vibraphone with a Chinese Tam-tam (or “gong” as commonly used) simulates the sound of a large bell. Encounters XV carries this a bit further, incorporating 4 note combinations, 2 on the guitar and 2 on the vibraphone coupled with tuned Asian Gongs. This allows for the enhancement and enrichment of the expressive qualities of the bell sound. The second section is an active duet built on a repetitive figure while the third section acts as an interlude. The fourth section requires some explanation: the percussionist plays on a chromatic set of Thai gongs. To blend with the diffused pitches of these gongs, the guitarist switches to a guitar that has small alligator clips attached to all strings; this causes a diffusion of the guitar pitches. The percussionist moves to a collection of drums while the guitarist returns to the first unaltered guitar. For this fifth section, the guitarist plays lyrically while the percussionist plays an extended solo, beginning very quietly, but then deciding to make a cadenza out of it, rather virtuosic, and, at times, reminiscent of the great drummers of my mid-teens, Chick Webb (his own band with the young vocalist Ella Fitzgerald), “Big Sid” Catlett (with Art Tatum), Jo Jones (with Basie), Gene Krupa (with Benny Goodman) and Buddy Rich (with Tommy Dorsey – but mostly in his own world). Encounter XV was written particularly for John Schneider, guitar and Lynn Vartan, percussion.
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Martin Perlich's Interview with William Kraft
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Choosing Percussion as a Youth
First Music Ever Heard
Music as Fountain of Youth
Nature as Inspiration
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