About this Recording
8.559684 - American Music for Percussion, Vol. 2 (New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble, Epstein)

American Music for Percussion • 2
Carter • Child • Cohen • Harbison • Lerdahl


Elliott Carter (b. 1908): Tintinnabulation (2008)

When the wonderful percussionist, Frank Epstein, suggested I write a percussion piece for his group of six players, a section of the orchestra I had often used as an independent entity, I agreed. Deciding not to use pitched percussion (marimba, vibraphone, etc.) I chose a large range of different sounding instruments. The work is in three important sections—wood, metal and skin—each of the six players has some instruments from each group. These instruments often can be played in different ways, for example with different mallets on different surface locations. The piece was composed in New York City, begun in the Fall of 2007 and finished on 19 April 2008. Tintinnabulation was commissioned by the New England Conservatory for Frank Epstein and the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble with generous support provided by Catherine and Paul Buttenwieser.
Elliott Carter

Twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, first composer to receive the United States National Medal of Arts, one of the few composers ever awarded Germany’s Ernst Von Siemens Music Prize, and in 1988 made Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the Government of France, Elliott Carter is internationally recognized as one of the leading American voices of the classical music tradition. He recently received the Prince Pierre Foundation Music Award, bestowed by the Principality of Monaco, and is one of only a handful of living composers elected to the Classical Music Hall of Fame. First encouraged toward a musical career by his friend and mentor Charles Ives, Carter was recognized by the Pulitzer Prize Committee for the first time in 1960 for his ground-breaking String Quartet No. 2. Stravinsky hailed Carter’s Double Concerto for harpsichord, piano, and two chamber orchestras (1961) and Piano Concerto (1967), as “masterpieces.” While he spent much of the 1960s working on just two works, the Piano Concerto and Concerto for Orchestra (1969), the breakthroughs he achieved in those pieces led to an artistic resurgence that gathered momentum in the decades that followed. Indeed, one of the extraordinary features of Carter’s career is his astonishing productivity and creative vitality as he embarks on his eleventh decade. Of his creative output exceeding 130 works, Carter has composed more than forty pieces in the past decade alone. This astonishing late-career creative burst has resulted in a number of brief solo and chamber works, as well as major essays such as Asko Concerto (2000) for Holland’s ASKO Ensemble. Chamber works include the playfully humorous Mosaic (2004), Two Thoughts About the Piano (2005–06), now widely toured by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and In the Distances of Sleep (2006), for mezzo soprano and ensemble. Carter continues to show his mastery in larger forms as well, with major contributions such as What Next? (1998), a witty first opera premiered in both Berlin and New York City, Boston Concerto (2002), Three Illusions for Orchestra (2004), called by the Boston Globe “surprising, inevitable, and vividly orchestrated,” Horn Concerto (2006), and a piano concerto, Interventions (2008), which premiered on Carter’s 100th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall with James Levine, Daniel Barenboim, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (11 December 2008). Carter’s centenary celebrations continue with more than 600 performances of his works scheduled around the globe.

Elliott Carter is published by Boosey & Hawkes. Tintinnabuation was first performed on 27 October 2008.
Courtesy of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers, Inc.


Peter Child (b. 1953): Refrain (2000)

Refrain is a work in one movement for six percussion. The New England Conservatory commissioned the piece for their annual Spring Festival in 2000, and it is dedicated to the NEC Percussion Ensemble and their music director, Frank Epstein. Two musical threads alternate in Refrain. They share a common pitch source, otherwise they are contrasted by almost every available means: Speed (fast vs. slow), timbre (mostly wood vs. mostly metal), character (energetically rhythmic vs. meditatively improvisatory). A clangorous coda stands somewhat outside this scheme and features a ‘metallic’ presentation of material derived from former ‘wood’ sections.

Peter Child is Professor of Music and a MacVicar Faculty Fellow at MIT. He was born in England in 1953 and has lived in the United States since enrolling at Reed College through a junior-year exchange program. Child’s composition teachers include William Albright, Bernard Barrell, Arthur Berger, Jacob Druckman and Seymour Shifrin, and he received his Ph.D. in musical composition from Brandeis University in 1981. Child was American Symphony Orchestra League-Meet the Composer Music Alive composer in residence with the Albany Symphony Orchestra in 2005–08 and is presently composer in residence with the New England Philharmonic. Child’s music has earned awards and commissions from Music of Changes, the Fromm Foundation, the Harvard Musical Association, Tanglewood, WGBH Radio, East and West Artists, the New England Conservatory, the League/ISCM, and the MIT Council for the Arts, as well as two Composition Fellowships from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation. He has also been awarded fellowships by the Watson Foundation, the MacDowell Colony and the Composers’ Conference, and four ‘New Works’ commissions from the Massachusetts Council for the Arts and Humanities. Some of his music has been recorded for the New World, Albany, CRI, Neuma, Centaur and Rivoalto labels. He is the recipient of the 2004 Levitan Prize in the Humanities at MIT for his work on musical analysis. Child has written for orchestra, chorus, voice, computer synthesis, and various chamber groups. His music has been prominently featured on the Lontano Festival of American Music in London (2006, 2008) and performed by United Berlin (Germany), Ensemble Lontano and the BBC Singers (UK), Interensemble (Italy), Speak Percussion (Australia), the National Symphony Orchestras of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and by new music ensembles throughout the United States.
Peter Child


Edward Cohen (1940–2002): Acid Rain (1997)

Acid Rain for two glockenspiels, two vibraphones, two pianos, and chimes, intends to evoke the sound world of the Indonesian Gamelan, while refitting it to a piece of contemporary classical music. The extremely metallic ambience is to some extent moderated by the pianos, which also supply the lower registers that the other instruments so notably lack. The piece is predominantly loud and often insistent, with softer passages serving as transitions, and finally as coda, in which a not-quite-predictable tinkling is meant to suggest a wind chime on a day when the breeze is gentle, the storm already past, but not forgotten.
Edward Cohen

Born in New York City in 1940, Cohen played piano and trumpet and attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. While writing music in a classical vein, he was inspired by jazz and improvisation. As a teenager he worked as a jazz pianist at resorts in the Catskills, and he retained an avid interest in jazz throughout his life. He frequently entertained family and friends with sparkling and original renditions of jazz standards. His formal musical training was entirely classical. He received a B.A. with honors in music from Brandeis University in 1961 and an M.A. in 1965 from the University of California at Berkeley, where he won the Ladd Prix de Paris, which sponsored two years of composing in Paris. Before coming to MIT, he taught at Brandeis University for thirteen years. He also taught at Harvard. Although he was strongly focused on the creation of new music, Cohen found time for other pursuits. He spoke French fluently and had a lifelong interest in French literature and film. He was a determined distance runner who ran the Boston Marathon four times in the 1970s.
Courtesy of Marjorie Merryman


John Harbison (b. 1938): Cortège (2008)

Cortège (1) A train of attendants, as of a distinguished person. (2) A funeral procession. From Old Italian corteggiare (to pay honor).

As soon as I began considering this percussion piece my dear and irreplaceable friend Donald Sur took his place in it. This is not the moment to try to describe Donald Sur as a composer (with a unique ear for the incantatory power of percussion instruments) or as comrade (ideally the piece has some of that, even some anger, after ten years, at losing him). The piece took a long time in conception, very little at the writing-desk, where each of the three movements was essentially written straight out. The first was drafted during a reception for one of MIT’s most distinguished professors, Millie Dresselhaus, on partyfavor postcards, in green crayon. The second, which refers most directly to Donald Sur’s oblique sensibility, was mostly written on the Eastern Regional train. l had expected to be writing the piece in Italy, a trip which was unexpectedly cancelled. The place I had rented in Umbria was between two churches, who were to ring their bells at least hourly from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The agency issued a provident warning to their composer client, but I actually liked the idea. It became part of the rhymes, refrains, and rituals of this cortège, closing out the third movement.
John Harbison

Composer John Harbison is among America’s most distinguished artistic figures. The recipient of numerous awards and honors (including the prestigious MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” award and the Pulitzer Prize), Harbison has composed music for most of America’s leading musical institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. His works include three operas, five symphonies, and numerous chamber, vocal, and choral works. He is widely recorded on leading labels. The 2009–10 season included first performances of Leonard Stein Anagrams (Piano Spheres), Double Concerto (Boston Symphony), and Diamond Watch, for two pianos (Boston). Current projects include a setting of texts by Alice Munro for voice and orchestra (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra), his Fifth String Quartet (Pro Arte Quartet), and a work for violin and piano (Music Accord). Harbison has been composer-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the American Academy in Rome, and numerous festivals. He received degrees from Harvard and Princeton before joining the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is currently Institute Professor, the highest academic distinction offered resident faculty. He is Acting Artistic Director of Emmanuel Music (Boston), co-Artistic Director of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, and has just completed a thirteen-year term as President of the Copland Fund. John Harbison’s Cortège for six percussionists is in memoriam Donald Sur, and was commissioned by Bradford and Dorothea Endicott for Frank Epstein and the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble.
Courtesy of G. Schirmer, Inc.


Fred Lerdahl (b. 1943): The First Voices (2007)

The First Voices, for eight percussionists and three singers (soprano, mezzo, alto), was commissioned by Bradford and Dorothea Endicott for Frank Epstein and the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble. The work is dedicated to Frank Epstein, director of the NEC Percussion Ensemble. I also want to thank Robert Dodson, former provost at NEC, for his rôle in making this commission possible.

In my youth I went to the 1964 Worlds Fair in New York and sat mesmerized for four hours listening to West African drumming. The First Voices is my homage to that experience. My starting point was a parallel, discovered by ethnomusicologists in the 1980s, between standard scales and West African rhythms. If you count up the major diatonic scale in semitones, the pattern is 2-2-1-2-2-2-1. Similarly, the pattern for the pentatonic scale is 2-2-3-2-3; for the major triad it is 4-3-5. West African drumming often employs these asymmetrical patterns as durational values. For example, the rhythmic equivalent to the diatonic scale is quarter-quarter-eighth-quarter-quarter-quarter-eighth.

The First Voices is in one high-spirited movement, about twelve minutes long. The form is ABABA. After a brief vocal introduction, the A sections exclusively employ the asymmetrical West African rhythms. When pitched instruments or voices enter, they play or sing scales and chords equivalent to their rhythmic counterparts, often in canon. Consequently, the piece is more diatonic and triadic than most of my music. In transitional passages, I inject more symmetrical scales (octatonic, hexatonic, whole-tone) along with their rhythmic equivalents. The B sections are built out of a different principle: as in certain pygmy music, they move in 36-beat cycles, divided into simultaneous sub-cycles (4 x 9, 6 x 6, etc.). The text, from Rousseau’s Essay on the Origins of Language, is an eloquent early statement of the view that music and language co-evolved. My approach to the text is rather abstract; using the French seemed unnecessary, and the setting is in English translation. The text has an oblique relationship to what is essentially a percussion piece, for which the voices provide another layer of texture and meaning.

The First Voices

With the first voices came the first articulations formed according to the respective passions. Anger produces menacing cries. But the voice of tenderness is softer. And such an utterance becomes a sound, according to the feeling to which it is joined. Rhythm and sounds are born with syllables: all voices speak under the influence of passion, which adorns them with all their éclat. Thus verse, singing, and speech have a common origin. The first discourses were the first songs. The periodic recurrences and measures of rhythm, the melodious modulations of accents, gave birth to poetry and music. At first, there was no music but melody and no other melody than the varied sounds of speech. Accents constituted singing, quantity constituted measure, and one spoke as much by natural sounds and rhythm as by articulations and words. To speak and to sing were formerly one.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Essai sur l’origine des langues. In On the Origin of Languages, trans. J.H. Moran & A. Gode. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.

Composer Fred Lerdahl studied at Lawrence University, Princeton, and Tanglewood. He has taught at UC/Berkeley, Harvard, and Michigan, and since 1991 he has been Fritz Reiner Professor of Music at Columbia University. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has twice been finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in music. Among his other honors are the Koussevitzky Composition Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Classical Recording Foundation’s Composer of the Year Award. Commissions have come from the Fromm Foundation, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Spoleto Festival, National Endowment for the Arts, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Library of Congress, Chamber Music America, and others. Among the organizations that have performed his works are the New York Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the American Composers Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Orpheus, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, eighth blackbird, Speculum Musicae, Collage, Antares, the Juilliard Quartet, the Pro

Arte Quartet, the Daedalus Quartet, Ensemble XXI, Lontano, and the Venice Biennale. He has been in residence at the Marlboro Music Festival, IRCAM, the Wellesley Composers Conference, the American Academy in Rome, the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival, the Yellow Barn Music Festival, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. Lerdahl is also prominent as a music theorist. He has written two books, A Generative Theory of Tonal Music (with linguist Ray Jackendoff) and Tonal Pitch Space, both of which model musical listening from the perspective of cognitive science.
Fred Lerdahl

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