for Five Percussionists and Orchestra

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

Duration: 30:00
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

One of my greatest pleasures in writing a concerto is exploring the new world that opens for me each time I enter the sometimes alien, but always fascinating, world of a solo instrument or instruments. For me, the challenge is to discover the deepest nature of the solo instrument (its "karma," if you will) and to allow that essential character to guide the shape and form of the work and the nature of the interaction between soloists and orchestra.

In recent years, many of us have become more aware of the musical world outside the Western tradition - of musics that follow different procedures and spring from other aesthetics. And contemporary percussionists have opened many of these worlds to us, as they have ventured around the globe, participating in Brazilian Samba schools, studying Gamelan and African drumming with local experts, collecting instruments from Asia and Africa and South America and the South Pacific, widening our horizons in the process.

The vast array of instruments in the collection of the Nexus ensemble is truly global in scope, offering a thrilling sound-universe. I will never forget our first meeting in Toronto when Nexus invited me into their world of hundreds of exciting percussion instruments. I was inspired by the incredible range of sound and moved by the fact that so many of these instruments were musical reflections of a spiritual dimension.

After long consideration, I decided that it would not only be impossible, but even undesirable for this Western-tradition-steeped composer to attempt to use these instruments in a culturally "authentic" way. My goal was an existential kind of authenticity: searching instead for universal ideas that would be true to both myself and the performers while acknowledging the traditional uses of the instruments. Since many percussion instruments are associated with various kinds of ritual, I decided that I would allow that concept to shape my piece.

"Rituals" is in four movements, each issuing from a ritual associated with percussion, but with the orchestral interaction providing an essential element in the musical form.

I. "Invocation" alludes to the traditions of invoking the spirit of the instruments, or the gods, or the ancestors before performing.

II. "Ambulation" moves from a processional, through a march and dance, to a fantasy based on all three.

III. "Remembrances" alludes to traditions of memorializing.

IV. "Contests" progresses from friendly competition - games, contests - to a suggestion of a battle of "big band" drummers, to war-like exchanges.

In the second and fourth movements, another percussion tradition, improvisation, is employed. Written into these movements are a number of ?seeds? for improvisation. Indications in the score call for the soloists to improvise in three different ways: 1) by simply embellishing the written part; 2) by responding to the orchestra differently each time at places indicated in the score; and 3) in sections for percussion alone.

"Rituals" was commissioned by the IRIS Chamber Orchestra, Michael Stern, Music Director; NEXUS (Bill Cahn, Bob Becker, Robin Engleman, Russell Hartenberger and Garry Kvistad); Kathleen Holt and Stephen Lurie; the Pearl Corporation; and Adams Musical Instruments.

The piece is scored for percussion ensemble with an orchestra of 2 flutes, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba and strings.

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the IRIS Orchestra, Michael Stern, Music director; NEXUS(Bill Cahn, Bob Becker, Robin Engleman, Russell Hartenberger and Garry, Kvistad); Kathleen Holt & Stephen Lurie; the Pearl Corporation; and Adams Musical Instruments.
Composition Date 2003
Orchestration 5 solo Percussionists; 2 2(E.H.) 2(B.Cl.) 2(Cbsn.) - 4 2 2 1; Str.
Premiere 6th March, 2004. NEXUS, IRIS Chamber Orchestra, conducted byMichael Stern, Germantown, Tennessee.


I. Invocation
II. Ambulation
III. Remembrances
IV. Contests

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