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Shake, Rattle and Ring: RPO Percussion Sensation Provides Centerpiece for Aural Tour

March 13, 2007

RPO’s Jim Tiller in Schwantner’s Concerto for Percussion & Orchestra bookends fascinating Charles Ives’ Unanswered Question and Brahms' First Symphony

Rochester, NY – The Rochester Philharmonic’s panoply of percussion instruments gets a workout by Principal Percussion Jim Tiller in Joseph Schwantner’s Concerto for Percussion & Orchestra conducted by Music Director Christopher Seaman on Thursday, March 29 and Saturday March 31 at 8:00 p.m. in the Eastman Theatre.  A complete battery of percussion instruments – including a rarely heard rack of Almglocken (pitched Alpine cow herd bells) and a water gong (a tam-tam lowered into a large kettledrum filled with water) – will give audiences an unforgettable and atmospheric “sight and sound” experience.  Mr. Seaman hosts the pre-concert chat at 7 p.m.  In addition, the RPO will offer a free wine-tasting provided by Centerra Wine Company from 7:30 – 7:50 p.m. in the balcony lobby of the Eastman Theatre for all ticketholders ages 21 and over.

The concert opens with The Unanswered Question by the fascinating and distinctly American composer Charles Ives.  Sketched during 1906 but revised in the 1930s, Ives originally sub-titled the piece “a cosmic landscape.”  Scored for trumpet, four flutes and muted strings, it combines in an enthralling, philosophically intriguing piece whose relative simplicity has made it one of Ives’ most widely-heard creations.  The string section plays very quietly throughout, representing “The Silences of the Druids – who Know, See and Hear Nothing.”  The trumpet, off-stage, intones “The Perennial Question of Existence” while the flutes hunt for “The Invisible Answer.” 

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Joseph Schwantner was commissioned in 1992 by the New York Philharmonic to write a percussion concerto in celebration of its 150th anniversary.  Early in the composition process, however, Schwantner lost his friend and fellow composer, Stephen Albert, so this Concerto for Percussion & Orchestra is dedicated to him.  The work opens with the soloist stationed near the other percussionists, creating a musical dialogue between them.  Timbaletas, a pair of bongos, amplified marimba, xylophone and a two-octave set of crotales are used.  The second movement, In Memoriam, is a slow, dark-hued elegy in which the soloist performs center-stage while the other percussionists remain silent.  The vibraphone (played both with mallets and a contrabass bow) and the bass drum are featured prominently with the Almglocken, water gong, triangles, cymbals and more.  The second movement moves directly into the fast and rhythmic third, which begins with an improvisatory section for the soloist.  The amplified marimba appears again, and the piece closes with a high-energy finish.

Symphony No. 1 by Brahms turns attention more inward, as the composer struggled with his first foray into the symphonic world to establish his own compositional identity following directly in the footsteps of Beethoven.  It was only after nearly 20 years’ work that Brahms felt this symphony was ready to be heard.  The work’s groundbreaking direction of victory through struggle and a journey from darkness to light links it with Beethoven’s symphonic ideals.  After a somber and dramatic introduction, the symphony moves from vigorous to warm and restful then to a finale using a heartfelt chorale melody bringing the work to its triumphant conclusion.

Hailed as a dynamic and versatile performer, Jim Tiller was appointed Principal Percussion of the RPO in 1995.  He subsequently made solo appearances on nearly all RPO performance series.  Active in virtually all musical genres, Mr. Tiller has performed throughout North America, Europe and Japan as a soloist and chamber musician.  Most recently, he gave the world premiere of Timothy Sullivan’s Music For Percussion, Flute and Strings with the Rochester Chamber Orchestra.  Mr. Tiller is director of the Percussion Ensembles Program at Hochstein, and is a faculty member at the State University of New York at Geneseo and at Houghton College.  He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina, and his master’s degree in Percussion Performance from the Eastman School of Music as well as being awarded the prestigious Performer’s Certificate.

Tickets for these performances are $20-$54, available online 24/7 at www.rpo.org, by phone (454-2100) and in person from the RPO Box Office, as well as at any Wegmans.  RPO Box Office hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (non-concert Saturdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.). Wegmans is open seven days a week.  A convenience fee may apply.

The Philharmonics Series is sponsored by Eastman Kodak Company and Bausch & Lomb. Mr. Tiller’s appearance is made possible by The Alfred Davis and Brunhilde Knapp Artists Performance Fund.  The performance of Concerto for Percussion & Orchestra is sponsored by the Goldberg Berbeco Foundation. The RPO gratefully acknowledges PAETEC Communications Inc. for the PAETEC Philharmonic Partners program, which offers discounted Philharmonics Series tickets to local college students. 

Now in its 84th season, the RPO inspires and enriches the community through the art of music.  The Orchestra is passionately dedicated to outstanding musical performance at the highest artistic levels, and has a unique tradition of musical versatility, commitment to music education in the broadest sense and a deep and enduring engagement with the community.  The RPO has been honored with the New York State Governor’s Arts Award, and two recent ASCAP awards for adventurous programming.

RPO performances are made possible in part with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency; the State of New York; Monroe County; the City of Rochester; and American Airlines, the official airline of the RPO. 


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