Christopher Theofanidis’ “Drum Circles” to be premiered by YSM percussionists

Christopher Theofanidis

On March 9, the Oregon Symphony, led my Music Director Carlos Kalmar, will premiere Drum Circles, a concerto for percussion quartet and orchestra by YSM faculty composer Christopher Theofanidis. Drum Circles was commissioned by a consortium of six organizations, including the Aspen Music Festival, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Colorado Symphony, Curtis (Institute) Symphony Orchestra, Hartford Symphony Orchestra, and Oregon Symphony.

“Much of Drum Circles centers around the joy of sound and collaboration,” Theofanidis said. The title of the five-movement work stems from its stage setup, which will feature the quartet—YSM alumni Ji Hye Jung ’09MM, Matthew Keown ’16MM ’22DMA, Svet Stoyanov ’07MM, and Sam Um ’17MM ’18MMA—and three of the orchestra’s percussionists surrounding the full ensemble in a large circle. One of the challenges Theofanidis faced in composing Drum Circles was keeping audiences’ attention on the percussion quartet throughout the piece. While composers of any concerto must work to maintain such a balance, “having many players potentially decentralizes that focus,” Theofanidis said.

The sound qualities of the percussion instruments the piece utilizes also came into play. Theofanidis observed that a potential imbalance between soloists and orchestra might be “even more pronounced with a percussion-quartet concerto with orchestra, where many of the sounds of the soloists are not pitch oriented, but the sounds of the orchestra all around them are.” In navigating these challenges while writing the piece, Theofanidis “kept coming back to the idea of dialogue and delight.”

Theofanidis decided from the beginning that the piece should be accessible to orchestras — “portable” in the sense that it would require instruments that most orchestras already have. “To have four players on the road with an enormous amount of gear didn’t make sense either artistically or economically and would have probably limited the opportunities for the work to get done,” he said. Still, the piece calls for some nonconventional instruments including an amplified typewriter, wooden slats, and spring coils — “plenty of bells and whistles, so to speak,” Theofanidis said.

While composing Drum Circles, Theofanidis checked in periodically with percussionists at YSM, incorporating their feedback into the writing and part-distribution process. “More than any other musicians, percussionists are collaborators,” Theofanidis said. “They were careful to let me know that they wanted their orchestral-percussion colleagues to very much be a part of the piece, not just a background group of players.”

Once the piece is performed with an orchestra for the first time, Theofanidis will be able to add any finishing touches the work might call for. “The great thing about having a consortium of six orchestras as part of the premiere is that we can continue to tailor the piece and get it ‘just so,’” he said.

CHRISTOPHER THEOFANIDIS

Published March 7, 2019
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Percussion alumni win orchestra, faculty appointments

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Ji Hye Jung

Ji Hye Jung ’09 MM was appointed Associate Professor of Percussion at Vanderbilt University. For the past six years, she has been Associate Professor of Percussion at the University of Kansas.

That newly open position at the University of Kansas will be filled by Michael Compitello ’09MM, ’12MMA, who has been serving as Director of Percussion at Cornell University.

Mike Compitello | photo by Matt Fried

Mike Compitello | photo by Matt Fried

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Georgi Videnov

In addition, Georgi Videnov ’15 MM was recently appointed Assistant Timpanist and Percussionist in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for the 2015–2016 season. MORE

Published May 15, 2015
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YSM students and graduates win positions

Ji Hye Jung ’09 MM, a student in percussion, has recently been appointed to the faculty at the University of Kansas, where she will teach percussion.

In addition, violinist Sun-Mi Chang ’08 AD has won a position with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Jihye JungKorean percussionist Ji Hye Jung burst into the spotlight during the 2006-2007 season with consecutive First Prizes at the 2006 Linz International Marimba Competition and the 2007 Yale Gordon Concerto Competition in Baltimore.  At twenty-five years old she is already sought after around the world as a soloist and teacher of marimba, percussion, and chamber music.
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Published April 7, 2009
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