Marimba 2010 – Opening Concert “A World of Marimba”

The Marimba 2010 Festival and Conference was held last week here in Minneapolis Minnesota and I was one of the thousands of people that attended the festival. I am going to present a number of blog posts on the entire festival over the next couple of weeks so stay tuned. I knew this festival would be large but I had no idea it would be this large until I arrived. Think of this festival as a mix between PASIC (and specifically the marimba focus day of PASIC 2000 in Dallas), a multi-day marimba festival (like the Zeltsman Marimba Festival or the Leigh Howard Stevens Marimba Seminar), and a large international and community involvement project. There were over 25 countries represented including many marimba styles that might not be familiar to all audiences.

This “dream” of Fernando Meza’s took 18 years of conceptualizing and 3 years of intense planning that came together in 4 days of pure marimba enjoyment. Meza, during his remarks to open the festival, is hoping that this “paves the way” for other events like this in the future. He also went on to thank his students and most importantly his family for their support over the years.

It was then time to begin the opening concert entitled “A World of Marimba”. This concert was free and open to the public and had a very packed house. The second level of the Ted Mann Concert Hall had to be opened as the main level was mostly full. This was a great way to open the festival as one of the main ideas was to bring the marimba to the community and not just play for other marimbists which usually happens with other festivals.

The concert began with Bernard Woma performing his own composition “Gyil nyog me na (for gyil solo)”. The gyil is a mallet instrument similar to the Balaphon that has wooden keys on top of gourds that produce a buzzing sound when played. This music is very addicting and makes you want to dance when listening to it. When introducing it Woma said there is a famous saying, “bad dancing will never kill the ground”. The Bernard Woma Ensemble (Bernard Woma and Mark Stone gyile, Kofi Ameyaw, Kuor Drum) then performed “Bagr-bine” which was an improvisational piece with poly-rhythms which also had the same get up and dance feel.

Next up was Toshi Ichiyanagi’s “The Source” performed by Momoko Kamiya (who commissioned and premiered this piece). This piece in two movements uses both 2 mallet and 4 mallet technique and was also played later in the festival at the Classical Marimba League concert. Kamiya then performed my favorite solo of the night, the world premiere of “Blossoms in the Sunlight” by Takatsugu Muramatsu. When I attended the Zeltsman Marimba Festival last year, I was introduced to Muramatsu’s “Land” which is a very popular piece among marimba circles. This new premiere can be thought of Land part 2. It starts with a similar enchanting melody that draws you in with its tenderness. The middle section goes into a faster number of passages that are more challenging than the Land. It then returns to the melody and harmonic variations that brought this marimba enthusiast to tears. For all of the intermediate marimbists who enjoyed “Land” keep an eye out for this fantastic new piece from the same composer. Because it is a world premiere, I don’t believe it is published yet. This was my first time seeing Momoko Kamiya. In addition to the incredible technique and sensitivity, she performs with such an relaxed effortless style that should be emulated by more players. I constantly struggle with tension when I play. Maybe it is time to put up a Momoko Kamiya poster to remind me of how it should be done.

Next was Nebojsa J. Zivkovic with a performance of “Ilijas” one of his compositions and a standard in the marimba repertoire which he played beautifully. He did apologize that his new premiere entitled “Magma” which was in the printed program, was not completed and ready for tonight’s concert.

The final piece before intermission was “The Invisible Men” by Nigel Westlake. This was conducted by Fernando Meza and performed by the University of Minnesota Percussion Ensemble members Adam Rappel, Scotty Horey, Bojan Hoover, Hans Fredrickson, and Joe Millea. The film was shown above the percussion ensemble and they played the audio track for the silent film. This film was a short comedy about a potion that two men steal to become invisible. It featured the marimba in many of the multi-percussion setups and added variety to the concert.

The second half of the concert began with the National Marimba Ensemble from Guatemala (Lester Godinez, Armando Hernandez, Maynor Fuentes, Marvin Cabrera, Geovanni Fuentes, Rolando Mora, Juan Jose Chiriz, Alexander Mora, Mario Fajardo, Juan Antonio Sequen, and Julio Flores) performing “Recuerdos Quetzaltecos”, “En las Cumbres”, and “Fiesta de Pajaros”.  They played 3 players on one marimba with a 4th player on another marimba. The ensemble also included 1 flute, 1 drum, and 1 upright bass. This was another part of the concert that opened up many listeners ears to the other “world of marimba” on authentic Guatemalan marimbas. These impeccably dressed gentlemen truly know the meaning of a ppp marking and showed their great dynamic range.

Katarzyna Mycka then performed Eric Sammut’s arrangement of Astor Piazolla’s “Libertango” followed by Anna Ignatowicz-Glinska’s “Tocatta”. In addition to hearing the new Basso Bravo resonators on the newest Marimba One marimba, Mycka also demonstrated some of the most fluid relaxed playing I have ever seen. I cannot stress how important relaxed playing is to incredible sounding marimba performances (wait did I say that already?).

Eric Sammut took the stage and announced that he would add a few minutes of Puccini variations to the beginning of his “Variations on Porgy and Bess” by George Gershwin. Not only were these pieces played seamlessly together, they also highlighted his incredible arranging and performing artistry. These arrangements used music from, according to the program notes,  “Gershwin’s opera but also Gil Evans’ sessions that included Miles Davis”. This was completely unexpected but incredibly effective and audience pleasing.

Nancy Zeltsman took the stage to perform one of her most virtuosic works “Marimbology” by Gunther Schuller. She played the 4th movement “Toccata” with a style that keeps you on the edge of your seat wanting more. She then delivered with “Amulet” by Paul Simon and “Mindwalk” by Lyle Mays. These two pieces are from the “Intermediate Masterworks for Marimba” collection that she commissioned as part of the ZMF New Music project. Amulet is one of my favorites from this collection.

The final part of the concert was performed by Marimba Nandayapa (Zeferino, Javier, and Oscar Nandayapa, Mario Nandayapa Velasco and Mario Nandayapa Gaytan). They performed “Sones Chiapanecos” and Zez Confrey’s “Dedos Agiles (Dizzy Fingers)”. Dizzy fingers was appropriately named as this showed 10 hands on two instruments in a flurry of speed and technique. This Mexican marimba ensemble showed how one family across multiple generations can share their love of music and the marimba with not only their own country but the entire world. It was a pleasure to see another aspect of the marimba’s heritage performed live.

My next post will talk about the Thursday concerts so stay tuned for more from Marimba 2010!

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