Yale Percussion Group to perform music by Matt Keown and recent graduates

Left to right: YoungKyoung Lee, Matt Keown, and Sam Um

In early November, six members of the Yale Percussion Group arranged themselves in a line and rehearsed a snare-drum piece by current DMA candidate Matt Keown, who guided his colleagues, measure by measure, through the rudimental-style drumming that he grew up with. “My first instrument was a drum pad,” Keown ’16MM said, explaining that he followed his father, Alan Keown, into the practice of percussion — specifically, marching percussion, a world that for most is far-removed from the styles and techniques that Matt and his colleagues are studying with YPG Director Robert van Sice at YSM.

In composing Mélange, so named because it commemorates his time at YSM, Keown said, “I was really worried about it,” because “there’s still this stigma that marching percussion is ‘less than’ art music.” Keown also said he “had to be really careful about how difficult to make it,” given that his colleagues didn’t grow up with the style. While “it’s technically really challenging,” he said, “if they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t work on it.” In addition to the music in Mélange, there is a theatrical element, based on the visual aspects of drum-corps performances.

If Keown was worried about his colleagues warming to his piece, van Sice was not. “They’re all over it,” the YPG director said.

On Sunday, Nov. 12, van Sice will lead the YPG in a program that’s rich in music by YSM alumni — including percussionist Leonardo Gorosito ’11MM ’12AD and composer Andy Akiho ’11MM — in addition to works by Philippe Manoury and Alejandro Viñao.

The program begins with Seeds, a piece by Gorosito and Rafael Alberto for various shakers that’ll be played by Keown and Yale College student Adrian Lin, whom van Sice called the “adopted younger brother of the YPG.” The first half also includes Akiho’s Pillar IV, which van Sice described as “groove music,” Manoury’s Le livre des claviers (II. Duo de marimbas), and Keown’s Mélange. The second half of the program features Viñao’s Water.

During rehearsals for the performance, van Sice talked about the approach he’s taken, over the past 20 years, in developing artists who think, always, like the most musically selfless of chamber-music practitioners. Playing chamber music, van Sice has said, is like “group parachuting.”

“Music and the art of playing music is something that is larger than we are,” he said, explaining, proudly, that the members of the YPG “know how to musically interact with other people.” And while that might seem like a no-brainer, it’s not necessarily the case elsewhere. Flowery talk is common in chamber-music circles, van Sice said, “but we really do try to walk that walk.”

The professionalism on display during YPG rehearsals is its own reward. As much as he gives them direction, van Sice said, “they inspire me back. They’re an inspiring group to work with.”

BUY TICKETS TO THE NOVEMBER 12 YALE PERCUSSION GROUP CONCERT

Published November 8, 2017
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YSM percussionists to perform faculty composer’s double marimba concerto

Sam Um, left, and Georgi Videnov

On Friday, October 27, percussionists and Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winners Sam Um ’17MM ’18MMA and Georgi Videnov ’15MM ’17MMA will perform YSM faculty composer Martin Bresnick’s concerto for two marimbas, Grace, with principal conductor Peter Oundjian and the Yale Philharmonia. We spoke recently with Sam and Georgi about preparing and performing Bresnick’s concerto.

Q: Grace was composed in 2000 for Yale Percussion Group Director Robert van Sice. How has working with Prof. van Sice informed your approach to the concerto? Has the piece changed at all since Prof. van Sice first performed it?

SU: Working with Prof. van Sice is always an exciting and illuminating experience. From the stories of how this piece came to life to his experiences of playing this piece in various places in the world, those stories influenced a lot of perspective and gave us more of a sense of attachment to the piece.

GV: In the case of Grace, Prof. van Sice usually uses it as a teaching tool by playing the first marimba part himself and giving the other to a student. This time, by working on it from the outside, he focused our attention on issues such as balance, stylistic approach, and interpretation. Even though the piece itself hasn’t changed, I believe that the relationship between each of the performers creates a unique version of it every time it’s played.

Q: Have you talked at all with Prof. Bresnick about the piece and, if so, what have those conversations yielded?

GV: Sam and I had the pleasure of playing it for Prof. Bresnick in a coaching and during my recital. One of the important aspects for him was to differentiate the “roles” of the two soloists — such as there is clearly a puppeteer and a puppet — as Heinrich von Kleist reflects on this relationship in his essay The Puppet Theatre.

SU: Prof. Bresnick and Prof. van Sice’s attention to the sound of the instrument was crucial in our process because we came to realize that the sound world of this piece is just so beautiful and complex. The idea of echo, nostalgia, and groove made us view the piece in an entirely different way.

Q: What unique aspects of the instrument and mallet technique does the piece exploit?

 GV: The piece exploits a number of techniques utilizing the entire five-octave range of the marimba. In its climactic points, Sam plays in the low register of the instrument, while I cover its high register, allowing the marimba to express its sonorous qualities to its fullest potential. What I find particularly interesting is the interlocking gestures that both marimbas have between each other to create a continuous texture.

SU: In order to achieve a huge sound without being aggressive requires a mature approach to the instrument. Trying to find that balance of making it sound weighty was a special technique, which was very challenging.

Q: What are the most challenging aspects (either technically or musically) of the piece? And what are the challenges of performing the piece with an orchestra?

GV: Due to its nature and the fact that we fill each other’s rests, it is almost harder to play and practice the piece on your own. Early on in the process, Sam and I started rehearsing it together before we even had fully mastered our individual parts to get a sense of how it fits together.

SU: Again, the sound has to be one of the most challenging parts about this piece. To create the beautiful texture and to almost tag-team with different groups of instruments to become one super-instrument will be challenging.

Q: How have you gone about ensuring a consistency of sound and color (between you)?

SU: We did lot of counting work and breathing together whenever we had entrances together. With such responsive instruments like percussion, we have to focus a lot on each other’s ictus and try to match our strokes. In the third movement, where we have passing, flowing lines, we sang those lines out loud to match our dynamics and tempi.

GV:  The marimbas are set up in such a way (facing each other) that allows us to constantly check in with each other, both visually and aurally, on our sound and color. As Sam mentioned, we are quite aware of our stroke preparations and how we feel the groove, both when we are playing and when we have rests.

Q: How would you introduce the piece to audiences who might be new to marimba concerti and even to contemporary music?

GV: Despite the fact that the marimba has found its place in the contemporary solo concerto repertoire, the choices for a double marimba concerto are quite limited. Here is an example that doesn’t try to impress with virtuosity (even though it requires such), but with grace.

SU: I’d love to say that just because it’s new music, it’s not all complicated and difficult to listen to. Contemporary composers are mostly influenced by great musicians people are familiar with such as Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, and they all share the same vision of making music important in their culture. I strongly believe that experiencing and being exposed to new music can be beautiful, nostalgic, and heartwarming, as well.

Q: What are your thoughts about performing a concerto by a YSM faculty composer here, at YSM, with an orchestra of your peers?

GV: Even though I’d like to share this piece with audiences outside of YSM in the future, I don’t think there is a better place for it than where the piece was conceived and having the opportunity to work on it with our professors and Maestro Oundjian — especially at Yale’s Woolsey Hall!

SU: I am very happy to have this opportunity where we can perform a piece by Martin Bresnick, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest composers and pioneers of today’s music. And to say that I am part of the same community (YSM) as him defines the great experience that students can have here at Yale. Performing this concerto has become so much more than giving a great concert. As percussionists, we unkowningly become ambassadors of new music and percussion. With this concert, I hope that we’ll be able to soften some opinions and break any barriers and fears that people have toward new music. I am grateful to be a part of the Yale School of Music, where the School provides its full support for the new music scene with concert series and opportunities like this.

Principal conductor Peter Oundjian and the Yale Philharmonia will perform in Woolsey Hall on Friday, October 27, at 7:30 pm. The program features the world premiere of the International Bruckner Society’s new edition of the composer’s Eighth Symphony, which was created by Yale School of Music Professor of Musicology and International Bruckner Society editorial board member Paul Hawkshaw. Special offer: tickets are free for all students.

LEARN MORE ABOUT AND BUY TICKETS TO THE OCTOBER 27 YALE PHILHARMONIA CONCERT

Published October 24, 2017
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Yale Percussion Group offers James Wood premiere in Valentine’s Day concert

Yale Percussion Group

Yale Percussion Group

The Yale School of Music presents a concert by the Yale Percussion Group on Sunday, February 14 at 7:30 pm. The program will feature the premiere of James Wood‘s trio Sea Dances alongside works by Ligeti and Xenakis.

Directed by Robert van Sice, the YPG has been called “something truly extraordinary” by composer Steve Reich and the ensemble has won the Percussive Arts Society Competition in both 2009 and 2014.

Sea Dances, by James Wood, is the product of a long fascination with the sea. Years before its conception Wood collected numerous recordings of the sea in various conditions, from lapping waves to rough surf. He then analyzed those recordings for their qualities of rhythm and movement. “The resulting data,” he writes, “went on to form the basis for the rhythmic, dynamic, and spatial structure of the work.” MORE

Published February 8, 2016
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Yale Percussion Group performs Jan. 24 at Yale, Jan. 25 at Carnegie Hall

The Yale Percussion Group in Ghana, May 2014

The Yale Percussion Group in Ghana, May 2014

The Yale in New York series at the Yale School of Music concludes its 2014–15 season with two concerts by the Yale Percussion Group. The YPG, directed by Robert van Sice, will perform in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, January 25 at 2 pm.

The night before, they will give their annual concert in Morse Recital Hall, located in Sprague Hall on the Yale campus, at 7:30 pm. This concert will also stream live online.
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The ensemble presents music from across the globe, including Mauricio Kagel’s masterful Dressur, Paul Lansky’s Textures, and a world premiere from composer Michael Laurello. The Sunday concert will also feature music inspired by Yale’s two-week trip to Ghana in May 2014. MORE

Published December 18, 2014
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Yale music ensembles travel to Ghana this May

Yale Concert Band

Yale Concert Band

The Yale Percussion Group and Yale Concert Band will soon travel to Ghana for 12 days of cultural exchange, musical research, and community service. This marks the first time that the undergraduate Yale Concert Band (YCB), which in 1959 became the first college band to tour internationally, will travel with the graduate Yale Percussion Group. The two ensembles will perform several times, including “unity” concerts at two universities and a joint concert with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ghana.

The participants will also undertake service projects in the village of Yamoransa, with which Yale has an ongoing relationship. While based in Yamoransa, the percussionists will study, perform, and recordtraditional drumming and dance with Ghanaian drum masters.

Reciprocal cultural exchange is an integral part of the trip. Each concert will involve musical exchanges with Ghanaian musicians. Every day the group will be immersed in the local culture, through activities including home visits, storytelling, and student exchanges. MORE

Published May 12, 2014
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Yale Percussion Group performs Reich’s Sextet and more Feb. 23

ypg-spragueThe Yale School of Music presents the Yale Percussion Group in a concert on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 8 pm.

The ensemble, hailed by composer Steve Reich as “something truly extraordinary,” will perform Reich’s Sextet as well as pieces by Steven Mackey and Toru Takemitsu. The YPG is directed by Robert van Sice. MORE

Published February 14, 2014
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Yale Percussion Group performs Sunday, Feb. 24

The Yale School of Music presents the Yale Percussion Group on Sunday, February 24, 2013. The concert features music by Bartók as well as three living composers, and takes place at 8 pm in Morse Recital Hall (470 College Street, New Haven).

The concert will open with Bartók‘s masterful Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. The Meehan/Perkins Duo, whose members have been called “superb young players” by the New Yorker and “gifted percussionists” by the Wall Street Journal, will perform John Supko’s Straits. The first half will conclude with Alejandro Viñao’s Book of Grooves.

All six members of the Yale Percussion Group will come together to perform James Wood‘s Cloud Polyphonies to close the evening. MORE

Published February 21, 2013
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75/100: Yale Percussion Group celebrates Steve Reich and John Cage

Feb. 19th concert honors the birthdays of two composers of significant pieces for percussion

The Yale School of Music presents the celebrated Yale Percussion Group in 75/100, a concert celebrating the birthdays of Steve Reich and John Cage, on Sunday, February 19th.

The ensemble, directed by the acclaimed percussionist and Yale faculty member Robert van Sice, has been hailed as “truly extraordinary” by composer Steve Reich. Now the YPG returns the compliment by dedicating the first half of this concert to Reich’s music.

The concert opens with Reich’s Mallet Quartet (2009), for two marimbas and two vibraphones. A highlight will be Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, in a new arrangement for vibraphone, marimba, and tape. Svetoslav Stoyanov, a YSM alum, created the arrangement and is the player heard on the pre-recorded segments.

The first half will conclude with Reich’s Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ, a 1973 composition for glockenspiels, marimbas, metallophone, women’s voices, and organ. Reich, who turns 75 this year, describes the piece as “deal[ing] with two simultaneous interrelated rhythmic processes.”

The second half of the concert is devoted to the music of John Cage, who was born 100 years ago this year and died in 1992. His Third Construction, written in 1941, is for four percussionists who play a vast variety of Western and international instruments as well as ordinary items like tin cans and a conch shell. Other Cage pieces on the program include In a Landscape (1948), originally written for piano, and Amores (1943), for piano and three percussionists.

She Is Asleep is a piece in two parts; in Part I, four percussionists play twelve tom-toms, and Part II is for voice and prepared piano (“prepared” meaning that objects have been deliberately placed in the instrument to alter the sound). Child of Tree (1975) is inspired by the sound of cactus spines being plucked; in the score, Cage instructs the performer in a structured improviation on ten instruments made of plants. “This improvisation is the performance,” Cage wrote. MORE

Published January 31, 2012
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Feb. 13 concert features music of Martin Bresnick

“Bresnick is a major voice.”
–Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

The Faculty Artist Series at the Yale School of Music presents a concert of music by the award-winning composer Martin Bresnick on Monday, February 13. Featuring performances by pianist Robert Blocker, the acclaimed piano-cello duo TwoSense, and alumni of the School of Music, the concert is a tribute to Bresnick’s thirty years on the Yale faculty. Bresnick, a professor of composition, is also the coordinator of the composition department at the School of Music.

“Bresnick’s legacy as a teacher is secure,” writes John Schaefer on emusic, “but it has threatened to overshadow the fact that Bresnick can just flat-out write.” As evidence of this, Bresnick also the winner of such prestigious awards as the Rome Prize, a Fulbright grant, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among many others.

The piano-cello duo TwoSense, featuring Bang-on-a-Can All-Stars Ashley Bathgate (’07 MM, ’08 AD), cello and Lisa Moore, piano, will open the concert with “Ballade,” an homage to Brahms. Bathgate will join with violinist Sarita Kwok (’06 AD, ’09 DMA) to perform “Bird as Prophet” (1999), a piece that Fanfare Magazine considers “an expansive yet concentrated power of expression.”

Robert Blocker, the dean of the Yale School of Music, will perform “Strange Devotion,” a movement from Bresnick’s collection “Caprichos Enfaticos” (inspired by Francisco Goya’s masterful series of paintings, Los Destastres de la Guerra).

Percussionists Robert van Sice (a YSM faculty member) and Ian Rosenbaum (’10 MM, ’11 AD) will join with pianist Moore to perform the double concerto “Grace.” In the piece, writes Anthony Tommasini in the New York Times, “extended passages of halting rhythms and quizzical restraint are broken up with bursts of precise and telling gestures.”

MORE

Published January 20, 2012
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Yale Percussion Group plays high-energy program of Reich Sextet and more

The Yale School of Music will present the Yale Percussion Group on Friday, December 10, 2010 at 8 pm in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Hall (470 College Street, New Haven). Renowned percussionist and educator Robert van Sice directs the ensemble, which has been called “something truly extraordinary” by composer Steve Reich.

Reich’s Sextet for keyboards and percussion is on the program, which also features Thierry de Mey’s intricately choreographed Musique de Tables, James Wood’s visceral Village Burial with Fire, and Mauricio Kagel’s Dressur. The theatrical Dressur thoroughly engaged New Haven audiences when it was performed in the Chamber Music Competition Winners’ Concert last May.

This concert is a free preview of the YPG’s Yale in New York concert at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, December 12. The members of the Yale Percussion Group, all graduate students at the Yale School of Music, are Yun-Chu Candy Chiu, Michael Compitello, John Corkill, Leonardo Gorosito, Ian Rosenbaum, and Adam Rosenblatt. MORE

Published November 29, 2010
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