Percussionists increasingly in the spotlight

Posted on: January 5, 2010

In last Monday’s (12/28/2009) New York Times, Allan Kozinn writes about “the way percussion has gradually grabbed the spotlight over the last century, and how percussionists have been asserting themselves in the broader musical scene as composers and conductors. Where a 19th-century orchestral percussionist mostly provided emphasis at cadential points and occasional painterly sound effects—the thunderstorm in the Beethoven ‘Pastoral’ Symphony, for example—his modern descendant oversees a huge array of pitched and unpitched instruments, and from Stravinsky, Varèse and Bartok forward, his work could make or break a performance. … Soloists like Evelyn Glennie, Steven Schick, Jonathan Haas and Michael Pugliese and groups like So Percussion, the Kroumata Percussion Ensemble and Nexus can fill a stage with a truckload of vibraphones, marimbas, tubular bells, gongs, rattles, drums and assorted items to be hit, struck or whaled on. … Having established their centrality to the sound of contemporary music, percussionists are beginning to make themselves heard in other ways; for example, by composing and conducting.” One of the best examples of the latter is Jeffrey Milarsky. “Once a regular percussionist on New York’s new-music circuit, Mr. Milarsky performs mostly as a conductor now, and he specializes in contemporary works for which an ability to sort out rhythmic complexities is vital.”

Posted January 5, 2010