Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 3:29 am | Mostly Cloudy 55º


Gerald Carpenter: UCSB Percussionists Return with a Bang

Fans won't want to miss the ensemble's winter concert on Wednesday

The UCSB Percussion Ensemble — under the always innovative, always inspiring direction of Jon Nathan — will offer its winter concert at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Karl Geiringer Hall (Music 1250).

John Cage's Third Construction was dedicated to his then-wife, percussionist Xenia Kashevaroff-Cage
John Cage’s Third Construction was dedicated to his then-wife, percussionist Xenia Kashevaroff-Cage.

The venue pretty much precludes late arrivals, and fans of percussion will not want to miss any of this exciting program, which includes John Cage’s Third Construction, Bob Becker’s AWOL (Away Without Leave), Brett William Dietz’s Sharpened Stick, plus several minimalist works, including Steve Reich’s Nagoya Marimbas and Music for Pieces of Wood, and William Cahn’s Night Ride — the latter a miniature timpani concerto with drummer Matthew Richards.

Eighteen years after his death, Cage (1912-92) remains the subject of intractable controversy. Some revere him as a visionary genius; others revile him as a charlatan and practical joker. No one doubts that he was ahead of the curve, however — way ahead.

Third Construction, written in 1941, is the last of three like-named works for percussion ensembles — or, rather, for ensembles of percussionists. The work is dedicated to Cage’s then wife, percussionist Xenia Kashevaroff-Cage. The work calls for four players: Player I — Northwest Indian rattle (wooden), five graduated tin cans, three graduated drums (tom toms), claves, large Chinese cymbal (suspended), maracas, teponaxtle; Player II — three graduated drums (tom toms), five graduated tin cans, claves, two cowbells, Indo-Chinese rattle (wooden, with many separate chambers), lion’s roar; Player III — three graduated drums (tom toms), tambourine, five graduated tin cans, quijadas, claves, cricket callers (split bamboo), conch shell; and Player IV — tin can with tacks (rattle), five graduated tin cans, claves, maracas, three graduated drums (tom toms), wooden ratchet and bass drum roar.

In a 1992 article called “The Paradoxes of Percussion,” Becker wrote: “I am a percussionist by profession. As a member of the percussion group Nexus, I have been engaged to premiere a new concerto by an important composer at a very prestigious venue with a major symphony orchestra and conductor. We have just received the parts, and the first performance is six weeks away. … In less than six weeks, I am going to go out on a stage in front of a large and sophisticated audience, most of whom will have paid a substantial amount of money (and a few of whom will be describing my performance in the press) and perform on a musical instrument that I have never learned to play. I want to make it clear that this situation is unique for my colleagues and me only in degree.”

Like most of his colleagues on this program, Dietz acts as both performer and teacher. He is an assistant professor of percussion at the LSU School of Music and music director of Hamiruge, the LSU Percussion Group — thus, he is LSU’s Jon Nathan.

Cahn is an associate professor of percussion at the Eastman School. Like Becker, he has played in the celebrated percussion ensemble Nexus since 1971; from 1968 to 1995, he was principal percussionist in the Rochester Philharmonic.

Percussionists have to be flexible and diverse, witness the range of musicians with whom Cahn has collaborated: Cage, Chet Atkins, Carlos Chavez, Aaron Copland, Jimmy Durante, Chuck Mangione, Mitch Miller, Seiji Ozawa, Reich, Doc Severensen, Leopold Stokowski, Richard Stoltzman, Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varese and Paul Winter. See what I mean? Flexible and diverse. Cahn has published four books.

Tickets to the concert cost $20 for general admission and $9 for students, and will be sold at the door. For more information about the UCSB Music Department events, click here or call 805.893.7001.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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