Wednesday, May 2, 2012: Play This Ten Times

Opus Osm

Composer František Chaloupka's instructions for playing percussion in The Book of the Earth

Play This Ten Times!

What would you do if your boss handed you this paper with the instructions, “Play this 10 times”?

It was all in a day’s work for award-winning percussionist Anton Zhdanovich, 20. He played percussion with The Berg Orchestra at their recent world premiere of The Book of the Earth by Czech composer František Chaloupka.

That requires not only playing a vibraphone, drums, and other more usual instruments from this unusual-looking score, but also whirling a length of plastic tube over his head, sawing on the cymbal and vibraphone with a cello bow, and, in another piece, even leaving the concert room to perform for a few measures in a back hallway.

All without missing a beat.

As a student, Mr Zhdanovich earned a President of Belarus Scholarship for talented youth, studied music at the Minsk conservatory and academy of music, was an orchestra member of the State Theatre of Opera and Ballet, and soloed with the Belarus State Chamber Orchestra.

So what’s it like for him, a serious, classical percussionist with the NeoPercussio Ensemble, to play contemporary music like Mr Chaloupka’s, plus Heiner Goebbels’ Red Run, and Alfred Schnittke’s Yellow Sound?

The answer might surprise you, if the words “percussion for orchestra” conjures up the music you learned for your school band.

In fact, “Playing a vibraphone with a bow is quite a usual technique,” Mr Zhdanovich tells Opus Osm. “It creates an interesting celestial sound; it is ‘tuned tones.’” He cautions that you have to learn how to create the sound, “but you would manage too after a while,” he smiles.

He compares the difference between using a mallet and a bow. Creating a sound with a mallet gives you a sharp beginning, and then the sound goes into silence. Stroking a bow on the edge of a vibraphone key, however, lets you create a very long sound of a certain pitch.

“The difficult part is to play what is written in the score at the right place,” he points out. “There are many changes of the instruments, and you also change the mallet for the bow.”

Opus Osm

Anton Zhdanovich on a slightly more traditional percussion instrument

He adds, “And then when you manage the technique, you have to think about the expression the music needs.” Further, there’s that boss looking over your shoulder, or, in the case of a conductor, looking you right in the eye. “You have to be very alert and always follow the conductor. Each part has its own mood,” the young percussionist explains.

He describes the mood of The Book of the Earth as “similar to listening to a waterfall or when you watch the sand on the seashore. Calming. Meditation.”

It creates pictures in your head — a special representation of our Earth and of our world, the elements, sounds, and various actions of nature, he believes. “When you have finished, what stays with you is the impression of Earth’s elements, and the associations stay with you.”

If you missed Mr Zhdanovich at this concert at the Dox Art Center, you have another chance to hear him. He’ll appear with the Berg Orchestra for their “Marianum” concert May 9 at the Saint Salvator Church (near the Charles Bridge), featuring music in space and visual art.

He will also play a solo performance June 5 at Betlémská Chapel, in a concert for marimba and orchestra, with the ČVUT Academic Orchestra.

And you can hear what the “tuned tones” of The Book of the Earth sound like by clicking on the video below. — oo

– Mary Matz; Eva Kesslová of The Berg Orchestra did research and translated the text for this article.

Photo Credits: Top, František Chaloupka; bottom, Eva Kesslová; video, Miroslav Setnička

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