This album showcases the compositions of some of my favorite composers, including two pieces that I commissioned. Áskell Másson’s works have long been an important part of my repertoire, and I greatly admire his approach to writing for the snare drum. I have always had a particular affinity for Robert McCormick’s compositions and his contributions to the percussion community due to the fact that my mentor and colleague, Chris Hanning, studied with Robert at the University of South Florida. I am thrilled to present the premiere commercial recording of Duo Fantasia, a piece that Maurice Wright composed for Electrum Duo. I first worked with Maurice when I performed his multi-percussion composition, Set-Up Music, as part of my Master’s recital at Temple University. I later recorded Set-Up Music for my debut solo percussion album, and I was recently honored to participate in the commission and world premiere performance of Maurice’s Duo Fantasia. The title track of this album, Molly Joyce’s Lo and Behold, serves as the premiere commercial recording of this 2016 commission. I first collaborated with Molly in 2013 when I commissioned her to compose What Goes On Inside for the West Chester University Percussion Ensemble. I truly admire Molly’s compositional style, and it was my pleasure to commission her to compose Lo and Behold for this album.
I was privileged to work with two of my favorite collaborators, Chris Hanning and Sophia Anastasia, on this album. I began studying with Chris 25 years ago and we have now been colleagues for two decades. His contributions to the percussion community (particularly his leadership within the Percussive Arts Society and his tireless dedication to his students) are immense, and I am so honored that he agreed to perform on this album. Sophia and I founded Electrum Duo in 2007 and this chamber ensemble has since been one of my most rewarding musical projects. Sophia is a brilliant musician and I am delighted to share our premiere recording of Duo Fantasia.
Composer Áskell Másson states “Rhythm Strip is an electrocardiogram, showing waves generated at each heartbeat of a person and the piece is based on some of these wave patterns. Other semi-regular sounds from our environment are also taken into account and thus the piece can be said to convey an impression of the harmony of Man and his immediate surroundings.” Throughout Rhythm Strip, Player 1 plays a piccolo snare drum while Player 2 plays an orchestral snare drum and a field drum. Másson has contributed several significant works to the contemporary percussion repertoire, and his music is regularly performed by the world’s great orchestras and chamber ensembles.
The five movements of David Corkhill’s Five Structures for Four Timpani portray unique musical characters and styles. The movements are named for rocks and minerals that Corkhill associated with the musical characteristics of the piece. Corkhill has distinguished himself as a chamber and orchestral musician, conductor, and composer. Corkhill has held principal positions in the Philharmonia and the English Chamber Orchestra, he won a Grammy Award for his recording of Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, and he has collaborated extensively with Benjamin Britten.
Portraits of a Waltz is dedicated to composer Robert McCormick’s teacher, Anthony Cirone (former percussionist with the San Francisco Symphony). McCormick states “in terms of pitch, harmony, and melody, a work for solo snare drum can be quite limited. On the other hand, the snare drum offers room for broad exploration to the composer, in terms of dynamic contrasts, rhythmic execution, timbre, and color. The first waltz, at least, plays with the idea that a drum could suggest a melody. This is accomplished by moving one stick across the head while striking with the other, similar to a rim shot… The second waltz opens with a dirge-like finger roll and develops into a bolero rhythm. Unlike Ravel’s Bolero, with its extremely soft opening and moderate tempo, I start the rhythm loud and fast, gradually getting softer and slower, and slightly altering the original beat. The third waltz, written for timpani mallet and brush, suggests the stylistic influence of the French courante. This waltz shifts melody between mallet and brush with subtle use of hemiola.” Portraits of a Waltz won first place in the 2006 Keystone Percussion Composition Contest. McCormick taught percussion at the University of South Florida for 45 years, and he served as principal percussionist/assistant timpanist of the Florida Orchestra for 20 seasons.
Duo Fantasia was commissioned by Electrum Duo in 2016, and the Duo presented the world premiere performance at West Chester University in March 2017. Composer Maurice Wright states “Duo Fantasia is a free-form piece about finding balance among several contrasting ideas. Gentle, contemplative sections alternate with vigorous, rhythmic expositions. The percussion becomes melodic, the flute more rhythmic, as each performer imitates the character of the other’s instrument. Canonic imitation shapes much of the piece, especially the very slow and deliberate ending, which becomes a canon by inversion. What goes up, comes back down, and vice versa.”
Wright also drew inspiration from James Legge’s 1891 translation of the Tao Te Ching:
Difficulty and ease produce the idea of the other; length and shortness fashion the figure of the other; height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and being before and behind give the idea of one following another.
The multi-percussion setup utilizes vibraphone, five tuned gongs, three graduated tom toms, kick drum, suspended cymbal, and whip. Wright is the Laura H. Carnell Professor of Music Studies at Temple University, and his compositions have been performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Emerson String Quartet, and the American Brass Quintet.
Lo and Behold is a two-movement composition for solo concert bass drum. Composer Molly Joyce states “Lo and Behold explores what it means to be soft, loud, and seemingly everything in-between on one of my favorite instruments, the bass drum. As a composer I have always had an obsession with the bass drum due to its incredible depth and versatility. However I have often found that the bass drum typically serves a supporting and perhaps even background role in most music. Therefore by bringing it into the spotlight, I hope to feature the instrument in all of its glory, but also at the same time explore a very fundamental yet subjective feature of music – what is soft and what is loud? Therefore since the instrument sounds so radically different when played at extreme dynamic levels, the work is structured in a two-tiered fashion that demonstrates the severe contrast in sonic quality when played at such different dynamic levels. Lo and Behold was commissioned by West Chester University for Ralph Sorrentino, and written in the fall of 2016 in New Haven, CT.” Joyce is an adjunct faculty member at New York University, and her critically acclaimed compositions have been commissioned and performed by major symphony orchestras and prominent chamber ensembles. — Ralph Sorrentino
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Ravello Records is the contemporary classical label imprint of audio production house PARMA Recordings. Dedicated to highlighting forward thinking composers and musicians from around the world, the New England-based label's eclectic catalog offers listeners a cross-section of today's up-and-coming innovators in orchestral, chamber, and experimental music.
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