USC Percussion Group Concert Program
Joseph Pereira leads the USC Percussion Group in an evening of contemporary works in Newman Recital Hall.
To give you form and breath
(1993 – )
Continuum: Variations on a colored line
*World Premiere – written for the USC Percussion Group
(1989 – )
(1972 – )
(1936 – )
To give you form and breath
Inspired by the poetry of Joy Harjo, this piece centers the nature of creation stories in relation to indigenous identity. Much of native belief and collective knowledge stem from oral traditions and the lens they provide is core to our understanding of the world and the spirits that live with us. To give you form and breath seeks to channel portions of that understanding through the use of ‘ground’ objects and manipulations of rhythm as manipulations of time.
– inti figgis-vizueta
Continuum: Variations on a colored line
My latest musical language forms the body of sound by avoiding pitch, mainly to the benefit of timbre. As a composer who hears colors in music, and primarily in three-dimensional shapes, exploring timbre comes much more naturally than managing pitch. Composing for a percussion ensemble was liberating, as percussion often blurs boundaries between pitches, using pitch levels such as low, middle, high, and very high, instead of a single pitch. In Variations on a Colored Line, I worked to create blurred rather than transparent colors. In the piece, the structure proceeds mostly as a series of transformational variations, but sometimes contrast sparks the growth of a phrase or section. As a phrase or section grows, the previous phrase fades away, leading to mesmerizing moments in the interstices of these transitions. Repetition serves as the main ingredient to support the continuity of sound during the process of transition.
The first movement begins in a wash of rose red with thin lines of silver; this mixes with copper and then fades back to red with a splash of orange by the end of the movement. As the movement grows, the silver lines become a splash of aluminum dots. By the very end of the movement, all colors disappear.
White lines of light open the second movement. There is a brief statement of dark red on the sound tube and navy blue on the thunder tube, with an initial pink fade of sunset on the vibraphones that returns and develops later. Occasionally, attacks from a particular instrument add a different shape to the existing color. For example, the circular motion of the beads inside the mixing bowl adds lines of light to the white color at the start of the movement. The first roughly forty percent of the second movement explores and develops lighter colors, while the final sixty percent processes increasingly darker colors, all the way to black.
The third movement emerges with sunset gold, pink, copper, from black. These colors are processed as texture rhythms and work their way back to the rose red and silver lines of the first movement. Slightly darker versions of copper and black appear later, and the piece ends with the gold and pink of sunset. Throughout the piece, there are no pauses between movements; thin, calm and soothing sunset pink, vibraphones, intertwines each movement to the others.
– Arash Majd
In Gather, energy is turned into space. The opening of the piece is dominated by silence, an empty space devoid of sound, but filled with potential energy. A ritualistic approach to the instruments focuses and amplifies the energies of the percussionists, which are then transformed into pulsations. The music that follows explores two complementary timbres, represented by drums and cymbals. As temporal space is filled with energy, the sounds of the percussion become an increasingly physical reality. The culminating saturation of sound and energy is the complement of the opening silence.
Gather was written for TimeTable Percussion.
– Keeril Makan
Six Marimbas, composed in 1986, is a rescoring for marimbas of my earlier Six Pianos (1973). The idea to rescore came from my friend, the percussionist James Preiss, who has been a member of my ensemble since 1971 and also contributed the hand and mallet alterations that are used in this score.
The piece begins with three marimbas playing the same eight beat rhythmic pattern, but with different notes for each marimba. One of the other marimbas begins to gradually build up the exact pattern of one of the marimbas already playing by putting the notes of the fifth beat on the seventh beat, then putting the notes of the first beat on the third beat, and so on, reconstructing the same pattern with the same notes, but two beats out of phase. When this canonic relationship has been fully constructed, the two other marimbas double some of the many melodic patterns resulting from this four marimba relationship. By gradually increasing their volume they bring these resulting patterns up to the surface of the music; then, by lowering the volume they slowly return them to the overall contrapuntal web, in which the listener can hear them continuing along with many others in the ongoing four marimba relationship.
This process of rhythmic construction followed by doubling the resulting patterns is then continued in the three sections of the piece that are marked off by changes of mode and gradually higher position on the marimba, the first in D-flat major, the second in E-flat dorian, and the third in B-flat natural minor.
– Steve Reich
“The spectrum of sound”
As early as 1939, John Cage and Lou Harrison organized concerts of percussion music that stretched the continuum of musical timbres to what most thought were its limits. But in fact this was only the beginning, and here we are almost a hundred years later, still exploring what Cage and Harrison started. What did it mean to create music that moved beyond conventional melody and harmony, and to emphasize other musical parameters such as rhythm, texture, timbre and even silence, as musical material? Tonight’s program represents diverse ways of answering this question. Starting from “noise” material, using common materials as instruments, to the clear use of traditional harmonies on marimbas, this range of exploration is on full display. The center piece is a world premiere written for us by local Los Angeles composer Arash Majd. His Continuum: Variations on a colored line, mostly avoids pitch and highlights timbre and the vivid colors we can imagine in our physical space.
The mystery of sounds as colors influences the way we not only hear music, but also how we produce these sounds. The never-ending variety of percussive sounds and techniques influences the constant exploration of new limits and allows all these sounds to become music.
– Joseph Pereira
Director, USC Percussion Group
About the Artists
inti figgis-vizueta (b. 1993) is a New York-based composer who captures the sounds of the magically real, braiding a childhood of overlapping immigrant communities and Black-founded Freedom schools—in Chocolate City (DC)—with direct Andean & Irish heritage and a deep connection to the land. inti is the recipient of the National Sawdust Hildegard Award, The ASCAP Foundation Fred Ho Award, and fellowships from Dumbarton Oaks, Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and the American Composers Orchestra. This year’s projects include Amaru for cellist Jay Campbell with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, music by yourself for Kronos Quartet, Seven Sides of Fire for Attacca Quartet with the American Composers Orchestra, Earths to Come for Roomful of Teeth with animator Rose Bond, and hushing for Adam Tendler’s Inheritances project, among others. The Washington Post says “her music feels sprouted between structures, liberated from certainty and wrought from a language we’d do well to learn.”
Recipient of the Luciano Berio Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, Keeril Makan has also received awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Fromm Foundation, the Gerbode Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, Meet the Composer, the Aaron Copland House, the Utah Arts Festival, and ASCAP. Described by The New Yorker as “an arrestingly gifted young American composer,” his work has been commissioned by the Bang on a Can All-Stars, American Composers Orchestra, Harvard Musical Association, and Carnegie Hall, among others. Makan’s work has been featured at the Other Minds Festival in San Francisco and the MATA Festival in New York, and internationally at the Gaudeamus Festival in the Netherlands, Musica Nova in Finland, and Voix Nouvelles in France. The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the International Contemporary Ensemble, the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, the Argento Chamber Ensemble, the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Dal Niente, the Sonar Quartett, the Del Sol Quartet, Nuova Consonanza, the New Juilliard Ensemble, percussionist David Shively, guitarist Seth Josel, pianist Bruce Levingston, pianist Ivan Ilic, and others have performed his music. His first CD, In Sound, was released on the Tzadik label with performances by the Kronos Quartet and Paul Dresher Ensemble. Starkland Records has released his second CD, Target, with performances by Either/Or, the California E.A.R. Unit, and soprano Laurie Rubin. His music has also been recorded on Innova and Carrier Records. Makan was raised in New Jersey by parents of South African Indian and Russian Jewish descent. After training as a violinist, he received degrees in composition and religion from Oberlin and completed his PhD in composition at the University of California–Berkeley. Outside the US, he spent a year in Helsinki, Finland, at the Sibelius Academy on a Fulbright grant. After receiving the George Ladd Prix de Paris from the University of California, he studied for two years in Paris, France. Makan is Associate Professor of Music at MIT where he holds the Lister Brothers Career Development Chair. He makes his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
As a composer, Dr. Majd has collaborated with many exceptional soloists and ensembles, including Dr. Xenia Deviatkina-Loh, Tina Guo, Peter Yates, Lars Hoefs, Maksim Velichin, yarn/wire ENSEMBLE, Winsor Trio, Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble, Friction Quartet, Elements of Nimbus Ensemble, Ball State University Saxophone Quartet, choreographers Batina Essaka, Stefan Poetzsch, Lyris Quartet, Ensemble TM+, Brightwork newmusic, and Joseph Pereira.
His latest commissions are Ursula Krummel Commission for the 2023 Hear Now Music Festival and a new work for USC Percussion Group commissioned by Joseph Pereira, the principal timpanist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He has been nominated for the American Prize and the ASCAP/SCI composition competition in Region 7, and has won the ASCAP/SCI composition competition at Ball State University. He holds a BM, 2012, from California State University, Northridge, where he studied with Liviu Marinescu. He received an MA, 2016, and PhD, 2020, in music composition from the University of California, Los Angeles, studying composition and orchestration with Ian Krouse, David Lefkowitz, Richard Danielpour, and Bruce Broughton. During his studies at UCLA, he composed music for all artists in residence, conducted research about the correlation between timbre and form in musical composition, and received numerous scholarships and fellowships from UCLA’s composition department. Dr. Arash Majd is published by Babelscores.
Reich has been called “the most original musical thinker of our time” (The New Yorker) and “among the great composers of the century” (The New York Times). Starting in the 1960s, his pieces It’s Gonna Rain, Drumming, Music for 18 Musicians, Tehillim, Different Trains, and many others helped shift the aesthetic center of musical composition worldwide away from extreme complexity and towards rethinking pulsation and tonal attraction in new ways. He continues to influence younger generations of composers and mainstream musicians and artists all over the world.
Double Sextet won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and Different Trains, Music for 18 Musicians, and an album of his percussion works have all earned GRAMMY Awards. He received the Praemium Imperiale in Tokyo, the Polar Music Prize in Stockholm, the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge award in Madrid, the Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall, and the Gold Medal in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has been named Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France, and awarded honorary doctorates by the Royal College of Music in London, the Juilliard School in New York, and the Liszt Academy in Budapest, among others.
One of the most frequently choreographed composers, several noted choreographers have created dances to his music, including Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Jirí Kylián, Jerome Robbins, Justin Peck, Wayne McGregor, Benjamin Millepied, and Christopher Wheeldon.
Reich’s documentary video opera works — The Cave and Three Tales, done in collaboration with video artist Beryl Korot—opened new directions for music theater and have been performed on four continents. His work Quartet, for percussionist Colin Currie, sold out two consecutive concerts at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London shortly after tens of thousands at the Glastonbury Festival heard Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead) perform Electric Counterpoint, followed by the London Sinfonietta performing his Music for 18 Musicians. “There’s just a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history and Steve Reich is one of them,” The Guardian.
USC Percussion Group