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About this Piece

Joseph Pereira’s Concerto for Percussion and Chamber Orchestra was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and given its premiere in May 2012, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, with soloist Colin Currie and conductor Jeffrey Milarsky. The composer wrote the following note.

At the time I started writing this piece, I was reading the story of Balboa and his life long journey – to be the first European to see the unknown Pacific Ocean. At the moment of his discovery, as he stood alone on top of Darién, his view expanded to infinity in both directions – one view back towards his home across the Atlantic, and the other to the unknown. This moment compressed into an instance transcends time. Every decision he made up to this point would gain him fame forever and at the same time, would eventually cost him his life. For me, reading this during my creative process strengthened the idea of “existence.” Whether it’s our physical existence, some form of art, a spiritual one, or even sound itself, it’s all a stronger force that we feel and know that is higher than us. I constantly find myself trying to search out the deeper meaning of each sound I create and how it can be connected to the next one.

In my percussion concerto, I wanted to deal with creating a symmetrical balance between all of the aspects involved. Most importantly, I wanted to work with the idea of pitched vs. un-pitched, and the oscillation between both directions. The use of pitches or tonal structures gives music more meaning in its most obvious use, whereas unpitched instruments are often associated with colors, random sounds, or even noise, with no clear structure, let alone possibilities for counterpoint on their own. And percussion rides the line of both sides, with the sound spectrum being indefinite and not fixed in either direction. This is an endlessly frustrating yet exciting problem to deal with. By allowing this idea to infiltrate the material of the ensemble, I was able to develop an orchestration with rich textures consisting of different levels of “pitch” material all the way to “noise” sounds. All the rhythms, “melodies,” and sounds would be influenced by the solo material – more specifically, influenced by the instruments themselves and the techniques used to play them. The idea of writing a concerto for percussion usually implies the use of many instruments, a kind of circus of an unlimited sound world and theatrical elements inherent to the physicality of percussion performance. Rather than writing for a vast array of instruments, I wanted to focus on getting the maximum color out of only a few instruments. I kept the solo part restricted to a basic setup of unpitched instruments – drums (Part 1) and pitched instruments – marimba and vibraphone (Part 2). The orchestra is also meant to be symmetrical in setup and in balance. With the two other percussion players on either side in the ensemble, I wanted to use instruments that would connect the material between the soloist and the orchestra rather than just commenting on the soloist’s material. Each section has different degrees of sound from tonal to noise – the soloist and orchestra waver between both, and the two percussionists often act as the glue to hold these sound materials together. The overall structure of the piece is that of a long line, constantly searching and evolving, yet connected from beginning to end. 

The first movement starts with the implied melody or “theme” on the drums (“unpitched” instruments).  I wanted to use these implied melodic figures and have the orchestra start to interpret them, eventually becoming “pitched” by the middle of the movement. There’s always a fine line between what is heard as pitched or unpitched, but manipulating the perspective through the orchestration attempts to put that into some kind of focus. The first movement in itself is symmetrical. After the introduction, the “A” material builds to a static chorale–like unison. Then the opening “A” material starts up again, but this time becoming more intricate and leaning more towards abstract “noise” sounds. The soloist’s gradual change to playing with hands leads to the coda, which disintegrates away and all sense of pitch dissolves.

The second movement takes off where the first left off. The marimba (pitched instrument) is at first treated as an unpitched instrument. The whole movement is focused on the resonance and natural beats that occur in the lowest register of the marimba. The low rumbling influences the different speeds of tremolo in the orchestra, continuing to solo cadenzas alternating with orchestral material. These orchestra sections are magnified versions of the soloist roll speeds, treated as different grains of sound layered over each other. The final cadenza leads to a short coda, which is played attacca into the third movement. Heading towards more melodic material, the marimba pitches are pulled apart by the orchestra with influences of “noise” material. Rather than dissolving again, the next section on vibraphone influences a path to specific tonal implications and eventually creates an ethereal atmosphere with the use of touched harmonics echoing the first movement’s middle section. The coda finally brings everything together with tutti chords and the most tonal music of the piece. As opposed to the melodically ambiguous opening, here, a clear obvious tonal sense is finally achieved, completing the symmetrical shape. My concerto is mostly a concerto of cooperation, not conflict, whereas the ensemble is not only influenced by the solo material but takes on the aesthetic of percussion performance as a whole.

— Joseph Pereira