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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Paul Hawkshaw awarded Fulbright for Bruckner research, residency in Vienna

Paul Hawkshaw

Professor of Musicology Paul Hawkshaw will be a Fulbright Visiting Scholar in Vienna in the spring of 2018. During his residency, he will teach classes at the University of Vienna’s Institute of Musicology and at the city’s University of Music and Performing Arts, in addition working at the Austrian National Library on a project titled A Bequest and a Complex Legacy: Untangling Anton Bruckner’s Revisions in Later Times, which aims to sort out the many different revisions of Bruckner’s music that have resulted from, in Hawkshaw’s words, “unauthorized tampering in Bruckner’s scores by well-meaning students and friends of his.”

According to Hawkshaw, the International Bruckner Society recently began a new Collected Works Edition under the auspices of the Austrian National Library and the Vienna Philharmonic. The New Anton Bruckner Collected Edition will eventually include new definitive scores of Bruckner’s complete works. Hawkshaw, who serves on the society’s editorial board, will work on three of the symphonies: numbers Seven, Eight, and Nine.

“In some cases,” Hawkshaw said, “previous editions had errors as a result of misreading the sources. For others, new, more reliable manuscript sources have surfaced since the older printed scores appeared.” MORE

Published April 5, 2017
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Paul Hawkshaw to retire as Director of Norfolk Chamber Music Festival

Music Shed at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival

Music Shed at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival

Robert Blocker, Dean of the Yale School of Music, announced today that the School of Music and the Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival will have a major leadership transition in 2016. Paul Hawkshaw, who has served as the festival’s director since 2004, will retire after the 2016 season. Melvin Chen, Deputy Dean of the Yale School of Music, has been appointed as Hawkshaw’s successor.

Under Hawkshaw’s leadership, the program has flourished. Audiences perennially flock to the bucolic setting, with ticket sales continuing to grow even while other classical music organizations around the world suffer from declining attendance. Ambitious restoration projects are ensuring that Norfolk’s buildings will endure: Whitehouse has been restored to its former beauty after its recovery from devastating water damage, and the first phase of the Music Shed restoration has provided a new roof, siding, and a beautifully reconstructed cupola atop the 1906 acoustic gem.

“Paul Hawkshaw has been a transformative and visionary leader for the Norfolk program,” noted Dean Blocker. “Perhaps even most significant is the warmth with which Hawkshaw has established close relationships between the festival and the surrounding community.” The Hartford Courant has hailed the “unity between the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival and the town where the Yale program is located.… these days there’s plenty of outreach by the Yale Summer School of Music and the Yale Summer School of Art on the estate.” In that same article, Hawkshaw noted the “symbiotic relationship” between the festival and the town. MORE

Published January 15, 2016
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[ in the press ]

Paul Hawkshaw talks Bruckner ahead of performance by Israel Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta

Paul HawkshawSouth Florida Classical Review
By David Fleshler

[…] Symphony No. 8, Bruckner’s last completed work in the form, is considered one of his greatest compositions. Conceived on a vast scale, with performances typically taking more than an hour and 20 minutes, the symphony has dark, organ-like sonorities, moments of shattering drama, a grave Adagio as long as an entire Mozart symphony and a blazing, thundering finale.

“He wrote it when he as absolutely at the height of his powers and at the height of his popularity,” said Paul Hawkshaw, professor of music at Yale University and author of the Bruckner section of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. “People talk about Bruckner as being this spiritual composer, that his spirituality as a person comes out in his music, and I think in the Eighth Symphony this happens more than anywhere else. MORE

Published March 21, 2014
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Bruckner Society of America to award Joseph Kilenyi Medal of Honor to Paul Hawkshaw

The Bruckner Society of America announced this week that Paul Hawkshaw will be awarded the Joseph Kilenyi Medal of Honor.  This honor is given to individuals whose work exemplifies the understanding and appreciation of the life and music of Anton Bruckner.

Paul Hawkshaw is Deputy Dean of the Yale School of Music as well as Professor in the Practice of Musicology and the director of the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival.

The Board of Directors of the Bruckner Society noted Hawkshaw’s “strong advocacy of Bruckner’s work as seen in the many articles, essays, editions, and addresses [he has] prepared in [his] illustrious career.”  In particular, the organization wrote, “His research on the Mass in F Minor and the Eighth Symphony are milestones in our understanding of Bruckner’s music.”

The Bruckner Society of America was established in 1931, and Medals of Honor have been given to such musical luminaries as Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter, Arturo Toscanini, and Paul Hindemith. The medal will be presented to Paul at Yale’s Commencement this spring.

Dean Robert Blocker extended his heartiest congratulations to Hawkshaw, saying, “That he has served the School with extraordinary leadership while continuing his scholarly work with critical distinction is in itself a remarkable achievement.  Most importantly, Paul extends to our community a quiet sense of humanity that enriches us all.”

Professor Hawkshaw’s publications include seven volumes of Bruckner’s collected works (Vienna), which are performed by major orchestras and choruses throughout the world. His articles have appeared in The Musical Quarterly, Nineteenth-Century Music, and the Oesterreichische Musikzeitschrift, and he wrote the Bruckner biography for Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians. In 1996 he was invited by the Austrian National Library in Vienna, to give the commemorative address marking the centenary of the composer’s death.

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Published March 3, 2011
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