Classical Marimba League at The University of Minnesota – Marimba Competition Winners Concert

The Classical Marimba League Marimba Competition Winners Concert was held at the University of Minnesota at Lloyd Ultan Recital Hall on April 2nd at 7:30pm. The Classical Marimba League has setup a Facebook page with much clearer photos of the event so please go “become a fan” on Facebook of this great new organization.

The concert started with an introduction by Fernando Meza and  Nathan Daughtrey talking about what we were going to hear this evening. The three performers were the winners of the marimba competition part of the CML and would each be playing the pieces they submitted for their jury.

First to perform was third place winner Yun-Ju Chou. She graduated from the National Taiwan Normal University in 2007 studying under Professor Yiu-Kwong Chung. She has won many awards and marimba competitions in Taipei. She started with Yiu-Kwong Chung’s “Concerto for Marimba and Wind Ensemble (mvmt. II Cadenza/Fuga)”. This piece was a straightforward Fugue with a light pretty melody. She played it with a light touch and nice dynamic contrast. After the piece was over there was a small uncomfortable moment where the audience started to applaud but then stopped because they weren’t sure this piece was complete. I will admit to the same confusion because I didn’t know the piece. This then meant that there was no applause for her pieces until all 3 were complete. I want to ensure Ms. Chou that it was not because the audience did not like the first two pieces. The second piece was Peter Klatzow’s “Dances of Earth and Fire”. Wow. This is one of the tour de force marimba standards that I have heard about many times but have never seen in person. When it is played at this level it will certainly win a marimba competition or two! The arpeggiated passages take you all over the instrument and it just seems endless in how the notes and lunges just keep coming. The notes that I wrote while watching this was “this piece is insane”. The final piece was Keiko Abe’s Marimba d’Amore. This piece is (ironically) on the Vic Firth concert podcast page by none other than CML’s own Nathan Daughtrey. What was impressive about this performance was how relaxed her hands were while playing such a powerful piece. Especially at the end you felt the power without seeing the effort needed to generate that power. For all of the students in the audience, I hope this point wasn’t lost.

Second to perform was second place winner Hiromi Kamiya. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Marimba Performance from Aichi Prefectural University where she studied unter Momoko Kamiya. She has won awards from first prize to semi-finalist in many marimba competitions and she is currently persuing a Graduate Artist Certificate from the Univeristy of North Texas with Mark Ford. First up, was Andrew Thomas’ Merlin. Another standard in the advanced marimba literature, this piece can be found on many marimba CDs including Nancy Zeltsman, Greg Giannascoli and William Moersch (and probably a lot more). This is another of the standard pieces that I have listened to many times but never seen played in person. This was truly the highlight of the evening. This piece truly invokes visions of King Arthur during the subtle rolling sections of movement 1. They rise and fall into dramatic booming passages which evoke an almost trumpet like summoning of the guards. Movement 2 rips into faster passages that compliment the rolling passages of movement 1. I was litteraly mesmerized by the performance, so much so that when I heard a single stick click I wrote down “she is actually human”. Bravo! The second piece was the USA premiere of Hirotake Kitakata’s “HATO-OTO”. I love being able to be a part of history and listening to a premiere and this was no exception. The piece started with a left hand double vertical pattern and a delicate melody in the right hand. Then without warning and with a surprise like a home run in baseball, the piece turns into a jazzy-crowd pleaser! Are you kidding – Jazz? Well we have a new advanced piece in the literature that will sure to make the rounds – this one is a keeper.

Third to perform was the first place winner Yi-Chia Chen. She received her Bachelor’s in Music Education from the National University of Tainan, Taiwan in 2006 and a Master’s Degree in Percussion Performance from Arizona State University in 2008. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in percussion performance with Dr. J.B. Smith and Mark Sunkett. She was the first prize winner of the 2007 PASIC Solo Marimba Competition. She began with Eric Sammut’s “Cameleon”. Sammut is probably the most famous four his “Four Rotations” but “Cameleon” is also frequently played. The ease at which Yi-Chia, moved across the bars, with a relaxed ease and this melody was very pleasing. The second piece was Keiko Abe’s “Variations on Japanese Children’s Songs”. Another classic in the repretoire, this powerful piece requires a confident technique to deliver very quick attacks. Ms. Chen performed this confidently. Finally, the evening was concluded with Claude Debussy’s “Dr. Graddus ad Parnassum (from Children’s Corner Suite)”. Ms. Chen played this a little bit faster that traditionally played and it lost a little of the emotion due to the technique needed to play it this fast. However, it was still a wonderful performance on a piece that is far from easy to play.

The evening was amazing. To hear marimba classics played by extremely talented performers and to hear new premieres in the same concert was a real treat. With respect to all of the performers, I would personally have put Ms. Kamiya as the first place winner based on these live performances, but all three were simply amazing! Thank you for a wonderful performance. To see the pictures of the perfomers, visit the Facebook page of the Classical Marimba League, or the Twitpic pictures of: Yun-Ju Chou, Hiromi Kamiya, and Yi-Chia Chen.

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