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Intermediate Masterworks for Marimba cover photo

Intermediate Masterworks for Marimba 2009

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Distributed by Bridge Records, Inc., 200 Clinton Ave., New Rochelle, NY 10801
Produced by Produced by Nancy Zeltsman
Directed by Director n/a
CD, color, 88 min.

Sr. High - Adult
Japan, Popular Culture, Music Trade, Singers

Date Entered: 03/29/2010

ALA Notable:
Reviewed by: Reviewed by Vincent J. Novara, Curator, Special Collections in Performing Arts, University of Maryland

Intermediate Masterworks for Marimba is a product of the 2009 Zeltsman Marimba Festival, an annual two-week training seminar and concert series founded in 2001 by internationally renowned marimbist, Nancy Zeltsman. Many of the works on the recording premiered at the Festival, which has been held in locations such as Appleton, WI, Los Angeles, and Boston, with Amsterdam slated for 2010. Zeltsman performs a great service to percussionists of all levels by assembling and producing this release.

The recording features expressive performances by several of today’s acclaimed marimbists, including current virtuosos (Ivana Bilic, Thomas Burritt, and Beverley Johnston) and established masters (William Moersch, Gordon Stout, and Zeltsman). Jack Van Geem and Jean Geoffroy also deliver fine performances. It is uncommon for a recording of solo works to feature such a vast assortment of performers – an aspect of this collection that further increases its benefit to students of the instrument. The recording’s exclusive focus on intermediary repertoire warrants its addition to the personal library of any percussionist interested in pedagogy and current marimba literature.

Intermediate Masterworks for Marimba debuts twenty-four new works of true artistic merit by a diverse selection of composers. Their compositions for this endeavor are all within a performance level attainable by serious students of the instrument. These new compositions are provided by established compositional masters, jazz veterans, ascending artists, practitioners as composers, and a pop star: Paul Simon. While many of the pieces explore the wide range of creative possibilities of the instrument, there is an abundance of perpetual motion works (constant repeated rhythms maintained through the entirety of a composition).

Several pieces by renowned contemporary composers stand out. Master Dutch composer Louis Andriessen contributes Mouse Running, a compact and exciting perpetual motion work similar in spirit to his other smaller-scale chamber pieces. Betsy Jolas’s Morning Thoughts is a contemplative work comprised of various tempos, drastic dynamic shaping, and moody melodic themes. Beast by Steven Mackey utilizes angular rhythms, shifting dynamics and tempos, and extended repetitive passages that will challenge the concentration of intermediate performers. J.K. Randall’s near-miniature, through Lapland, provides a work of high aesthetic value for the developing performer. James Rolfe’s Sticky includes fine examples of tempo modulation and alternative striking techniques. Steven Stuckey composition, Dust Devil, is likely the most impressive of all the perpetual motion works included in this collection. For the listener it is moving; for the performer it is challenging in terms of sheer musicality. Remember, Marimba by Errollyn Wallen incorporates persistent asymmetrical rhythms and tuneful melodic motifs. Chen Yi’s Jing Marimba, though enchanting and reminiscent of the music of her native China, might be the one work that is beyond the abilities of the intermediate marimbist.

A handful of notable jazz composers offer thoughtful and compelling works. Over There by Carla Bley (legendary Free Jazz figure), is a well-organized syncopated jazz waltz. Fred Hersch’s Chorinho Picante is modeled on Brazilian choro music, a style he translates effectively for the marimba. Lyle Mays’ Mindwalk is a study in dynamic control in a perpetual motion setting. Three Small Adventures by Gunther Schuller is an engaging cycle that highlights the emotive power of the instrument.

Pop legend Paul Simon’s Amulet is a pensive work rife with familiar melodies and harmonies indicative of his celebrated songwriting. Three younger composers ¬– Jude Carlton, Derek Tywoniuk, Alvina Tan – present solid compositions that reveal the creative potential of these artists and their understanding of the marimba’s palette.

Intermediate Masterworks for Marimba is essential for any music or fine arts library supporting a music department with a comprehensive percussion program in performance and pedagogy. This recording provides a cross-section of trends in composing for marimba, even within the limitations of intermediate level performance demand. The sheer variety of composers and performers involved make it a worthwhile recording. Furthermore, the level of detail given in the thirty pages of credits – including biographies, program notes, make of marimba used by performers, which composers presided over their work’s recording sessions – will prove useful to serious scholars of the instrument and repertoire. As a means of performance documentation and evaluating programming practices, the credits also reveal when and where works premiered, and when they were recorded for this release.