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Emerald City Music ends season showcasing the beats of Bach

Percussionist Ian David Rosenbaum of Brooklyn, New York, will play “The Well-Tempered Percussion,” a reworking of Bach’s classic “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” He will be joined by another percussionist Christopher Froh of Sacramento, California.
Percussionist Ian David Rosenbaum of Brooklyn, New York, will play “The Well-Tempered Percussion,” a reworking of Bach’s classic “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” He will be joined by another percussionist Christopher Froh of Sacramento, California. Emerald City Music courtesy

The works of Johann Sebastian Bach — like those of many classical composers — include very little percussion.

But at Emerald City Music’s “Back to Bach” on Saturday, percussion — along with piano and strings — will be in the spotlight of a program of music composed and inspired by the Baroque master.

Percussionists Ian David Rosenbaum of Brooklyn, New York, and Christopher Froh of Sacramento, California, will play “The Well-Tempered Percussion,” a reworking of Bach’s classic “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” a series of preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys.

“The Well-Tempered Percussion,” by Norwegian composer Per Nørgård, takes three of the preludes, originally composed for one keyboard instrument, and reorchestrates them to be played by two percussionists on vibraphone and marimba, with accents on a few other instruments.

“We play every single note in the piano version, but it’s not quite as simple as he just gave the right hand to one person and the left hand to the other person,” Rosenbaum said in a Monday phone interview. “We jump back and forth on every single note almost and create this new orchestration.”

Rosenbaum will play marimba at Saturday’s concert, and Froh will play vibraphone.

“It’s a pretty obscure piece,” he added. “I actually hadn’t heard of it.”

Emerald City artistic director Kristin Lee of New York City came across the piece, recorded in 1996 by the well-known Danish percussion ensemble Safri Duo, better known for its energetic dance music.

The percussionists will also play Anders Koppel’s 1990 “Toccata for Vibraphone and Marimba,” a classic in the relatively new repertoire of chamber music for percussion.

“I’m sure it will still be new to most of the audience, but it’s a relatively old piece by our standards,” said Rosenbaum, who plays with Sandbox Percussion and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

“It highlights the same thing the Bach arrangement does, and that’s this intense complicated counterpoint,” he said. “The interaction between the two instruments happens lightning fast, and it’s an exhilarating thing to watch.”

Emerald City, wrapping up its first season, mixes older classical works with contemporary chamber music in its concerts. For percussionists, though, pretty much the entire repertoire is contemporary.

“Our genre is brand new,” Rosenbaum said. “Every single day, it’s reinventing itself, and new pieces are being written. It only started being a thing in the second half or last third of the 20th century.”

That’s because many percussion instruments are themselves new to the world of classical music. “In some of the orchestral works, there would be timpani in the orchestra,” he said. “I believe that’s because a lot of these other percussion instruments didn’t exist in the classical sense. There were some indigenous versions of the instruments, … but you wouldn’t find them in the concert hall.”

These days, you will. Both Froh and Rosenbaum work to get composers interested in writing for percussionists, and Rosenbaum said the instrumentalists’ versatility intrigues many composers.

“Let’s say a composer wants someone in the orchestra to rip a piece of paper or something like that, they are probably going to give that to the percussionist,” he said. “That’s the role we’ve slipped into as the people who will happily take on any random task that a composer wants us to do.”

Also on Saturday’s program are Bach’s Double from Partita no. 1 for Solo Violin, Bach and Ferruccio Busoni’s Chaconne for Solo Piano, Ryan Francis’ Sillage for Violin and Piano and Robert Schumann’s Piano Quartet.

Other musicians playing Saturday are violist Matthew Lipman, pianist Hyeyeon Park, violinist Scott St. John and cellist Peter Wiley.

At a free event before Saturday’s concert, Emerald City Music will announce its 2016-2017 season, which will include half-dozen concerts in Olympia.

Like this season, the organization’s second will feature “high caliber, eclectic repertoire and a unique pairing of emerging and established musicians,” said Andrew Goldstein of Olympia, Emerald City’s executive director.

‘Back to Bach’

What: Emerald City Music’s first season closes with an eclectic program inspired by the works of Johann Sebastian Bach.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 27.

Where: Black Box Theater at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia.

Tickets: $28, $10 for students.

More information: 360-753-8586, washingtoncenter.org.

And more

Season announcement

What: Emerald City Music will announce next season’s concerts, and there’ll be live music, too.

When: 6-7 p.m. Saturday, May 27.

Where: Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters, 516 Capitol Way S., Olympia.

Tickets: Free.

Season preview

Next season, Emerald City Music will again present eclectic chamber-music concerts in Seattle and Olympia. (Tacoma concerts have been suspended but will return in the future, said executive director Andrew Goldstein of Olympia.)

There’ll be six Olympia concerts, with ticket prices ranging from $10 to $43. The full season will be announced before the concert Saturday. Here’s a preview:

• “Not even the wind …” by contemporary composer John Luther Adams, will make its world premiere at Emerald City’s season openers in September. Also on the program will be music from American composers including Andrew Norman and Leonard Bernstein. 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16 at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

• Andy Akiho, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based composer and percussionist who’s composed for the San Francisco Symphony and New York Philharmonic, will curate a concert of his own music and works that inspire him. 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28, The Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts, South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Road S.W., Olympia.

• The Miró Quartet, based in Austin, Texas, and internationally acclaimed, will headline an evening of string quartets. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9, The Evergreen State College Recital Hall, 2700 Evergreen Pkwy. N.W., Olympia.)

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