Posts Tagged ‘ensemble’

Writing for Percussionists

January 22, 2016

For many years, I have written music for percussionists. Their diverse musical backgrounds generally gives them a very open mind towards the new and contemporary.

My music tends to be highly energetic, groove-based, pop/world-influenced and grounded in modes. In other words, the sound world of jazz and rock, a world that most percussionists of American origin are familiar with due to playing in bands as well as high school and college music programs.

So, if you’re going to write new music today, you’re probably going to find percussionists welcoming you. It is worth noting that the first classical percussion literature written specifically for percussion ensemble begins with Edgard Varèse’s Ionisation (1929-31) a seminal 20th century piece. And, by the way, it’s highly energetic with grooves and world music influences.

Here is the opening to my percussion quartet Material Rhythms. The world influence in the opening measures are found in the 3-2 clavé pattern in the percussionist’s right mallet layered over a 2-3 clavé pattern in the left mallet.

Material_Rhythms_Susman_I.jpg

Material Rhythms by William Susman for Percussion Quartet, Section I. Wood

William Susman’s Material Rhythms for percussion quartet performed by Reinhardt University’s Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Olivia Kieffer.

Experiencing a Live Performance

November 8, 2014

It’s a different experience watching a live performance of music than listening to a studio recording on your stereo (or earbuds). Here the Rome-based Italian ensemble Piccola Accademia degli Specchi perform the first movement of Camille at Zeeuwse Concertzaal in Middelburg, Netherlands in 2011.

Camille (2010) was commissioned by Piccola Accademia degli Specchi. The work is scored for the group’s instrumentation which is a hybrid of the traditional “Pierrot Ensemble”:  flute, saxophone, violin, cello and piano 4-hands. The saxophone gives the work a unique quality different from the traditional clarinet used in a “Pierrot Ensemble”. Having the piano part played by 20 fingers instead of 10 expands the rhythmic and sound possibilities. There are three movements in Camille with the titles I. Vitality II. Tranquility and III. Triumph.

Opus One Memphis Interview Part 4

February 26, 2012

I’m interested in hearing more about your chamber music group, OCTET. For all of you readers who aren’t familiar with OCTET, it’s an awesome New York-based music ensemble dedicate to performing contemporaary compositions that push boundaries. What inspired you to start OCTET?

What inspired me to start OCTET was the need to hear my music. It’s always been a challenge to get performances. I wanted to take control of getting my music performed and recorded. I also wanted to create a distinctive ensemble sound. Our instrumentation is sax, trumpet, trombone, drums, piano, keyboards, vocals, and bass. We are a scaled down big band playing contemporary classical.

(You can hear the ensemble at our website and on our blog.)

Let’s talk about the piece MSOs Opus One is performing on March 1 and 2, Zydeco Madness. You’ve told me before that this piece was your response and memorial to the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. What connection do you have to Louisiana?

I lived in New Orleans for a year and a half before transferring to Champaign-Urbana. I remember the seasonal storms and floods and walking around in 3 feet of water years before Katrina. When Katirna happened, I asked myself why are these people being neglected and forgotten.

Initially, it was a solo accordion piece, because the lead instrument in a Zydeco band is typically a button accordion. I chose Bayan accordion which is a very large button accordion with a wider range than the accordions you see in Zydeco bands. The Bayan accordion is what one studies in the conservatory. You also generally play the Bayan sitting down because of its weight.

Stas Venglevski performs Zydeco Madness for Bayan Accordion solo in San Francisco

My piece does not emulate the Zydeco sound, which is very much tied into blues and creole music, so much as paint a picture or a mood around the events of Katrina using an accordion. The piece is episodic, jump-cutting from one event to the next like a news report.

It was premiered by a great Russian Bayan virtuoso named Stas Venglevski. I created a string orchestra version shortly after.

Read the whole interview at Opus One Memphis