Yale Percussion Group to perform Kagel, Xenakis, Jarrett, and Wood

Members of the Yale Percussion Group (YPG) are a tight sextet—personally, professionally, and, most important, musically. The enthusiasm they have for being here at Yale, and for performing the repertoire that showcases their instruments and musicianship—from well-known to new compositions—is clearly reflected in their playing. This year’s Yale Percussion Group concert will feature small chamber works and solo pieces. Kevin Zetina ’20MM, who will be performing in his first YPG concert, explained, “When you work exclusively with five other people for an extended period of time you get to develop together as a unit, rather than as an individual.” Even solo performances by YPG members are imbued with the ensemble’s artistic ethos.

The YPG’s Dec. 8 program will include performances of Mauricio Kagel’s Dressur, Iannis Xenakis’ Rebonds (movement B, arranged for guitar by Manuel Barrueco and performed on marimba), a marimba arrangement of jazz pianist Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert (Part IIC, arranged for marimba), and James Wood’s Village Burial with Fire.

Russell Fisher ’20MMA described Dressur, a theatrical percussion work from 1977, as “a truly unique piece of chamber music,” one that constantly toys with audience expectations. Dressur features three performers (Fisher, Arlo Shultis ’20MMA, and YoungKyoung Lee ’19MMA) playing more than 50 wooden instruments, “some conventional, and some unconventional.” With its dramatically choreographed movements and staging, Dressur is as entertaining to the eye as it is to the ear—a goal of the composer, who wrote that his music was “a direct, exaggerated protest against the mechanical reproduction of music” that resulted from music after the 19th century being “reduced to the purely acoustical dimension” thanks to recording technology. “What I want is to bring the audience back to an enjoyment of music with all senses,” Kagel has said.

Rebonds is considered one of Xenakis’s most important and influential works. Shiqi Zhong ’19MM, who will perform movement B of Rebonds—a movement scored for bongos, tumba, tom-tom, bass drum, and five woodblocks—said the piece, composed between 1987 and 1989, is “all about rhythm and time.”

Jisu Jung ’19MM will perform the encore that Jarrett played at a January 1975 concert in Cologne, Germany—a performance that was recorded and released as, simply, The Köln Concert. Jarrett performed the music on a piano with which he was disappointed; Jung will play it on marimba.

Just as Dressur will showcase a YPG trio, so, too, will Wood’s Village Burial with Fire. “I’ll never forget my first time hearing Village Burial with Fire,” Zetina said. “It is safe to say that it changed my life. It is such a powerful piece of music.” The work depicts an ancient Hindu burial ceremony and begins with the performers (Jung, Shultis, and Zetina) chanting and wailing in imitation of villagers communicating with a deceased spirit. When a funeral pyre is lit after a noisy procession to the river, “it seems as though the whole village has exploded into music and dancing—soon, some go into trance,” wrote Wood, who composed Village Burial after a trip to Bali. In its visceral realism, Zetina likened Wood’s musical depiction of a funeral to that of “a field recording, rather than simply a programmatic work.”

The dedication of YPG members to their art is evident. “It is rare for a music group to rehearse only two pieces for four months and eight hours a day,” Zhong said, referring to Dressur and Village Burial with Fire. “Therefore, the level of music-making at each YPG concert is incredible.”

“Performing in YPG is truly an honor,” Fisher said. “I struggle to think of other ensembles that have such an incredible lineage of musicians. To now be a part of this ensemble and legacy is really humbling.”

The Yale Percussion Group, under the direction of Robert van Sice, will perform music by Mauricio Kagel, Iannis Xenakis, Keith Jarrett, and James Wood on Saturday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall. The concert is free and open to the public.

Published December 4, 2018
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Yale percussionists prepare for “Symphonie fantastique”

Left to right: YoungKyoung Lee, Russell Fisher, and Jisu Jung

Just a few hours before guest conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni arrived on campus to start rehearsing the Yale Philharmonia for Friday’s concert in Woolsey Hall, the orchestra’s percussion section played through several passages of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. The work, a wildly imaginative piece of program music that calls for a giant ensemble including four timpanists (in the third movement, specifically), will close Friday’s program and introduce concertgoers who are unfamiliar with Berlioz’s score to the heights of the composer’s creativity and the brilliance of his orchestration.

“We can’t help but remind ourselves to be sticking with the story of the music or how Berlioz was while he was writing this piece,” percussionist Jisu Jung ’19MM said.

The program notes (by Liam Viney, ed. Aaron Levin) for Friday’s performance explain: “In the printed program of the first performance, Berlioz provided an outline of the plot: the love-sick hero (presumably himself) is plagued by images of his beloved and troubled by a spiritual sickness. He … is constantly visited by his beloved’s image, accompanied by extreme emotional reactions. Eventually, disillusionment sets in during the third movement, and he poisons himself with opium to assuage the anguish of his unrequited love. Delirium sets in, and he descends into the horrific dream world of the fourth and fifth movements.”

In Berlioz’s Treatise on Instrumentation and Modern Orchestration, percussionist Russell Fisher ’20MMA said, the composer “describes different instruments, he describes also the emotional responses that go along with them. You can really see that in this piece in particular.” And, Jung, said, “You can see how detailed he was when he was writing this.” Fisher added, “There’s very little left up to interpretation.”

“He even suggests sticking,” percussionist YoungKyoung Lee ’19MMA pointed out, which is “really rare, especially at this time.” Symphonie fantastique was composed and premiered in 1830, revised thereafter, and published in 1845.

As they rehearsed the timpani parts in the fourth movement (“March to the Scaffold”), percussionist Arlo Shultis ’20MMA offered, “YoungKyoung’s part and mine are so interlocked. Since I’m playing second timpani, I’m really watching her and watching the conductor, as well.” Shultis and Lee are using similar mallets and the same stickings.

With equal attention to time, sound, and consistency, Fisher and Jung ran through their bass-drum parts in the fifth movement (“Dream of the Witches’ Sabbath”), Fisher executing crescendos and Jung providing attack and decrescendos, with percussionist Kevin Zetina ’20MM playing the chimes. Discussion was had about dynamics, or course, though those will largely be up to Zeitouni, and, to a degree, to Woolsey Hall. That Zeitouni trained as a percussionist will likely factor in to how extreme those dynamics will get. “Our goal,” Jung joked, “is: Play until you get the hand,” the hand being a conductor’s “that’s too much” signal.

Returning to a more serious note, Jung said she and her colleagues (including Shiqi Zhong ’19MM, who doesn’t play on the Berlioz) are “very, very tight.” They bring the skills required of outstanding chamber musicians to the Philharmonia. “We just develop this huge trust in each other,” Fisher said.

Jean-Marie Zeitouni leads the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and music by Saint-Saëns and Debussy on Friday, Oct. 26.

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Published October 23, 2018
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Robert van Sice to perform with current YPG members and alumni

Robert van Sice

Yale Percussion Group Director Robert van Sice recently said that Garth Neustadter’s Seaborne “is the best piece anyone’s written for me since [James Wood’s] Spirit Festival with Lamentations.” Neustadter’s piece, which will be premiered on Saturday, March 3, as part of a concert billed as Robert van Sice & Friends, was commissioned to be a sort of companion piece to Steve Reich’s Sextet.

The March 3 program is built around Seaborne, which is fitting given that Neustadter ’12MM is a YSM alum and the concert will feature current YPG members and a host of alumni. In addition to Seaborne, which includes a film component created by van Sice’s son, Kjell van Sice, the program includes Thierry De Mey’s Musique de tables, “Story” from John Cage’s Living Room Music, and Reich’s Sextet.

Current YPG member YoungKyoung Lee ’18MM said the concert “represents the most important part of Bob’s teaching, which is learning from your peers and having the community together.” Percussionists are told when they arrive at YSM, “You will learn more from the other five students here than you will learn from me,” van Sice said. During the March 3 concert, several generations of YSM-trained percussionists will share the Morse Recital Hall stage, introducing the audience to some of the students who have passed through the School since van Sice joined the faculty in 1997.

While he’s looking forward to celebrating his time on the YSM faculty, van Sice is quick to recognize those who were here before him: Fred Hinger and Gordon Gottlieb. “These are really significant people who I have the privilege of succeeding,” van Sice said.

The March 3 concert, van Sice said, is “going to look way more like a party than a concert.”

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Published February 28, 2018
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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.

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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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