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Drumming up excitement

UM Percussion Ensemble to feature student composers in WSO New Music Festival

January 24, 2017 — 

The University of Manitoba Desautels Faculty of Music Percussion Ensemble hits the stage as part of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s New Music Festival on Jan. 29.

It will be the ensemble’s sixth appearance at the festival, and they will be performing as part of the pre-concert events.

This year, University of Manitoba student composers are in the spotlight.

Nolan Krell’s duet for two amplified snare drums will debut featuring complex hand gestures – an unusual way to play the snare. The intricate finger movements across the head are outside the “normal” methods of playing the drum and require an intense focus from the 2 players.

Harley Dyck’s piece features a wash of colours on keyboard percussion instruments, marimba, vibraphone and chimes. It creates a soundscape of waves and harmonic movement using accents and articulations in order to slowly shift the texture from section to section.

Morgan Thickson’s piece features the players set up around a central bass drum functioning as a unit in order to represent the regularity and restrictions of day to day life in our society. An interesting feature of the piece is the one player who tries to “break free” from the group but eventually is pulled back into the pattern.

“In the percussion world we perform almost entirely “new music” because everything we play has been written in the last 100 years,” said Victoria Sparks, director of the UM Percussion Ensemble and a regular performer with the WSO. “The pieces can be everything from the social commentary of Morgan Thickson’s work, the complexity and strangeness of Nolan Krell’s work, to the shimmering beauty of Harley Dyck’s piece. That’s the great thing about new music: Anything goes.”

Sparks encourages everyone to check out the New Music Festival and support the Percussion Ensemble’s involvement, especially if it’s something you’ve never done before.

“You have to see it and take a chance on something that might not make any sense to you,” says Sparks, who has 15 years’ experience performing at the festival.

“I have played some pieces I thought were amazing and awe inspiring, others that were very odd, a couple that I really didn’t like, and every so often you get to be a part of something that stuns you. I’ve had some of the most memorable performances of my life through this festival,” says Sparks. “As a percussionist, you often get to be at the heart of these pieces because writing for modern percussionists is kind of the latest frontier for composers.”

“That’s the great thing about new art,” she adds. “We don’t know what things are going to stand the test of time, and our job isn’t to decide that; it’s just to listen and see what catches our ear. You might hear something and think, ‘this isn’t for me’ and you also might hear something that will blow you away.”

Tickets to the New Music Festival are $25 each or $12 for students. Festival passes are also available. The University of Manitoba Percussion Ensemble performs on Jan. 29 at 7 p.m., prior to the 7:30pm concert featuring the music of Meredith Monk. For full information, check out the Winnipeg New Music Festival website.

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