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.”

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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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Inside YSM: Matthew Keown, percussion

Matthew Keown, percussion

We asked percussionist and current DMA candidate Matthew Keown ’16MM to share his thoughts about the new Adams Center for Musical Arts.

“As a percussionist at YSM, I am lucky enough to have my studio located in the heart of the new building,” he said. “The door to our foyer leads directly to the new student lounge, our beloved watering (coffee) hole. The quality of a practice space affects musicians more than one might imagine. The natural light let in through large windows in our practice rooms energizes the musician and helps foster a greater sense of focus. The sound of our new rooms varies with the shape of the space to provide diverse, quality sonic experiences.”

The new spaces also serve the logistical needs of the YSM percussion studio.

“As percussionists,” Matt said, “we are constantly moving equipment from one space to another, and the generosity with which the new building was designed, in respect to this need, is greatly appreciated. Each door in our percussion suite was specially designed to comfortably fit five-octave marimbas and 32” timpani. The percussionist’s favorite part of the new building, though, is the elevator. On any given day in the old Hendrie Hall, I am told, you could spot percussionists carrying timpani upstairs. I think I speak for all current and future percussionists (sorry those of past generations) when I say thank you for this convenience!”

Matt’s performance of YSM faculty composer David Lang’s “the anvil chorus” was recently featured in a video of the Adams Center’s name being carved into the face of the new complex.

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Published March 24, 2017
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Adams Center for Musical Arts opens

Adams Center, exterior

Adams Center for Musical Arts

The new Adams Center for Musical Arts opened today, as students, faculty, and staff returned to the Yale School of Music and Yale College to begin the spring semester. Twenty-four months after ground was broken, the complex is in use by the School of Music and by Yale College students who participate in the University’s undergraduate ensembles.

“The Adams Center for Musical Arts is a welcoming space and place for Yale’s musical community,” Yale School of Music Dean Robert Blocker said. “It was designed to enhance and enrich the creative, artistic, and intellectual process of making music together. Each space — from the smallest practice room to the beautiful ensemble halls and the student commons — was designed with the intent of supporting and sustaining the cherished musical culture that Yale has enjoyed for more than three centuries.”

Named for Stephen ’59BA and Denise Adams in recognition of their continued generosity and support of the Yale School of Music, the $57.1 million Adams Center for Musical Arts was made possible primarily through gifts from Yale alumni. The complex connects a newly renovated Hendrie Hall to the previously renovated Leigh Hall by way of a new structure that is anchored by a dedicated orchestra rehearsal room and an atrium in which students from the School of Music and Yale College can gather. MORE

Published January 17, 2017
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[ concerts ]

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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[ students & alumni ]

Yale Percussion Group Featured on Recording of James Wood’s “Cloud-Polyphonies”

YPG-Carnegie_motion

Yale Percussion Gruop

The renowned Yale Percussion Group, directed by Robert van Sice, is featured on the upcoming album Cloud-Polyphonies from British composer James Wood.

NMC Recordings will release the album on February 19, 2016. In addition to the YPG’s recording of the percussion sextet Cloud-Polyphonies, the record also includes Wood’s Tongues of Fire for symphonic chorus and percussion quartet, written for the 140th anniversary of the Yale Glee Club. MORE

Published February 1, 2016
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[ concerts ]

Yale in NY presents the Yale Percussion Group at Carnegie Hall Jan. 25

The Yale Percussion Group in a recent performance with Angélique Kidjo | Photo by Judy Sirota Rosenthal

The Yale Percussion Group in a recent performance with Angélique Kidjo | Photo by Judy Sirota Rosenthal

The Yale in New York series at the Yale School of Music concludes its 2014–15 season with a concert by the Yale Percussion Group on Sunday, January 25 at 2 pm.

The YPG, which is directed by Robert van Sice, was a winner of the 2014 Percussive Arts Society competition. Composer Steve Reich has called the ensemble “something truly extraordinary.”

Sunday’s concert will take place in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.
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The ensemble will present music from across the globe, including Mauricio Kagel’s masterful Dressur, Paul Lansky’s Textures, a world premiere from composer Michael Laurello, and works collected during Yale’s two-week trip to Ghana in May 2014. MORE

Published January 20, 2015
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[ concerts ]

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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[ in the press ]

Yale musicians play—and listen—in Ghana

YPG_Ghana_UCCYale Alumni Magazine
By Christopher Arnott

For decades, musical groups from Yale have flown all over the world in the summers to perform. But the 12-day trip that members of the undergraduate Yale Concert Band and the School of Music’s Yale Percussion Group took to Ghana in May wasn’t just for sharing their own music but also for learning about Ghana’s musical culture.

While on the trip, students made video and audio recordings to document native Ghanaian drummers and dancers—recordings that will be used to make and publish transcriptions in collaboration with scholars and publishers in Ghana. Yale Bands director Thomas Duffy, who led the trip, likens the research to the valuable folk-music field recordings that scholars made in Appalachian areas of the United States in the 1930s. MORE

Published October 2, 2014
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